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Full text of "Heartbeat"

HEARTBEAT 



STACY AUMONIER 



HEARTBEAT 







HEARTBEAT 



BY 
STACY AUMONIER 

Author of "Just Outside", "The Querrils' 
"One After Another", etc. 



BONI AND LIVERIGHT 

Publishers New York 



Copyright, 1922, by 

BONI AND LlVERIGHT, INC. 

Printed in the United States of America. 



CONTENTS 

Book I. Diastole 7 

Book II. Systole 73 

Book III. Diastole J 93 



2043370 



BOOK I. 
DIASTOLE 



BOOK I DIASTOLE. 
I 

OUTSIDE the window a starling uttered a long 
deep note, then fluttered away. In the twilight of 
her mind some chord of gratitude responded. She 
was conscious of the pleasant sense of delightful 
coming things. . . . Something tremendous and 
moving occuring deep down within herself, and she 
enjoying the cosy contemplation of it. They say 
this is the hour when people usually choose to die, 
when the vitality is at its lowest; perhaps it is only 
shifting from one plane to another. The vitality of 
Barbara was certainly very pronounced, long be- 
fore it shifted to the plane of actual consciousness. 
Eich and full were the anticipations and visions 
which crowded upon her. When the daylight came, 
and she had washed and dressed and gone out into 
the sun, you could see the reflection of them in those 
profoundly questioning, profoundly vivid eyes. The 
young are so closely in touch with their inner selves 
that it is only the external things they question, the 
things which threaten to re-act upon themselves, to 
harden them. 

The starling did not come again ; doubtless he had 
other sleepers to warn of the miracle of the sun's 
approach, and they in the exact measure of their 
true or false visions would welcome or execrate him. 
Her father, that man of almost unfathomable dign- 



8 HEARTBEAT 

ity, the holder of high office under the Crown how 
would the warning of the starling affect him?. . . 
Barbara was too far away to concern herself with 
such an imponderable question. She had the genius 
of happiness. 

Several hours elapsed before the chain of visions 
snapped abruptly, caused by a maid opening the 
door quietly. She had come to awaken the young 
mistress. In a flash Barbara was awake in every 
living tissue. A crowd of definite facts leapt to the 
fore-front of her mind. They took somewhat this 
order: Yesterday had been her twentieth birthday. 
It was over, but there were crowds of things to look 
forward to. Billy Hamaton and the Stradling girls 
were coming to spend the day. Daddy was going to 
town after breakfast, and wouldn't be back for a 
week. She had a pony, a real live pony of her own, 
given her by her father yesterday. Its name was 
Tarbrush. These thoughts crowded upon each other 
while she was speaking. 

"Good morning, Sally." 

"Good morning, miss." 

"Is it going to be fine, Sally?" 

"I shouldn't like to say, miss. Ij;'s all right at 
present a bit misty." 

Sally was a born pessimist. She could always 
find a cloud or a mist about somewhere. "When she 
had retired, Barbara assured herself with regard 
to the dubious weather forecast, by leaning out of 
the window in her nightdress. She knew by experi- 
ence that it was the kind of day likely to be fine. A 
slow-moving day, with a thin white mist that would 
lift later, and leave a scorching sun to do its worst. 
Poor Daddy! "What a curious idea for Parliament 



DIASTOLE 9 

to sit in August, when all the schools and colleges 
and everything else of the kind were shut! Surely 
those old gentlemen, who were mostly like her 
father, well-to-do, comfort-loving old gentlemen, 
could make what times they liked ! If I was Parlia- 
ment I should break up in early July, she thought. 
And then well, after all, July is very jolly, and so 
is June, and May. Why not sit in the winter when 
it's wet and foggy? How jolly the lavender smelt 
in the bed beneath her window, and yes, there was 
Beal already rolling the tennis-lawn while the dew 
was upon it. ... 

n. 

THERE was something about the tenuous lines of the 
girl's body as she darted about the room imma- 
ture, like the quivering bud of a plant that has 
never seen the sun except through glass. Her move- 
ments were eager and vital . . . epicene, in- 
deed almost boyish. She might have been a boy of 
seventeen rather than a girl of twenty. Even the 
face was boyish, a pretty, effeminate boy. Her dark 
hair was caught tight back from the forehead and 
hung in a long plait down her back. The business 
of bathing, undoing the plait, brushing out the hair, 
donning a rather shapeless print frock, was all 
done in the manner of a boy late for school. Some 
of the boyishness may have been due to the fact that 
in her curiously detached life she had many people 
to spoil her and no one to spoil. 

She was her own mother, and sister, and brother. 
Her father was so much away. Mrs. Tollboy, the 
housekeeper, and Miss Eidde, her tutor, were kind- 



10 HEARTBEAT 

ness itself, but for neither of them had she any deep 
affection. She lived for herself. She had no recol- 
lection of her mother at all; neither did her father 
ever mention her. 

Between her father and herself there were 
strange little chasms of reserve. Many years pre- 
viously, when quite a little girl, she had been taken 
by Miss Ridde to the House of Commons to hear 
her father speak. He was a very important man. 
Miss Bldde said he was a Chancellor, whatever that 
was. He had charge of all the money in the coun- 
try millions and millions. The knowledge had im- 
pressed her enormously. She deducted the fact 
that if he had charge of all the money in the country 
he must be the one man that everybody trusted 
most. If he had millions and millions to look after, 
it would be so easy to help himself to a little say, 
a pound, or perhaps half-a-crown. No one could 
surely ever find out. She had no strong moral bias 
about these things. She had been brought up to 
take anything she wanted. 

But if the knowledge of his position and power 
impressed her, the sight of him in the House was a 
thing she would never forget. The memory of it 
was one of the causes of the little chasms. There 
were rows and rows of middle-aged and elderly men 
solemnly listening to her father as he stood by a 
table, holding a sheaf of papers in his hand. He 
looked exactly the same as he did at home. It was 
the setting which made him appear more impres- 
sive. A loose, badly fitting frock-coat hung in pen- 
dulous masses about his vast person; chains and 
signets dangled between the crevices in his waist- 
coat. His heavy, melancholy face, with the deep 



DIASTOLE 11 

bags beneath the eyes, and the great dome of fore- 
head, gave an atmosphere of complete immersion 
in his subject, of complete aloofness from his sur- 
roundings. 

The deep boom of his tired voice filled the great 
hall with effortless ease as he developed the scheme 
of his ponderous economies. Sometimes a ripple 
of applause would run round the hall; at other 
times from odd corners would come murmurs of 
dissent; but he seemed to be quite unconscious of 
either interruption. Once a thick-set man with a 
grey beard addressed a long remark to him in a 
strident voice. Her father placed one of his large 
fat fingers on a certain place on the sheet of notes 
before him, and turned his gloomy face in the direc- 
tion of the speaker. His face expressed neither an- 
noyance nor approval. He was apparently care- 
fully weighing the value of the interruption. Satis- 
fying himself that the remark was not "germane 
to the subject," he continued his discourse in the 
same imperturbable accents. At moments he be- 
came husky and wheezy, and he blew his nose in a 
languid tornado of sound, in identically the same 
way she had seen him do in the dining-room at home 
after breakfast. The speech seemed interminable, 
and quite incomprehensible. Occasionally he would 
put the papers down and, leaning heavily with one 
hand on the table in front of him and the other 
thrust into the sleeve-opening of his waistcoat, he 
would wander off into a maze of figures, and aver- 
ages, and percentages, all quoted from memory. 

Barbara felt a great desire to call out: "That is 
my father!" but she dreaded the vision of all those 
bald-headed and solemn-faced men looking up at 



12 HEARTBEAT 

her. It was not exactly pride she felt, but an in- 
stinct to enlarge the claims of her possessive sense. 

m 

CUEIOUSLY enough, this experience did not tend to 
augment her sympathy with him. At the time he 
appeared sufficiently impressive, but afterwards, 
when she beheld him in their own home behaving 
in the same way, talking to the same kind of men on 
the same or similar themes, she could not shake off 
the effect of some overpowering and passionless 
fate. In his attitude towards her he expressed an 
enveloping affection, within the confines of an elab- 
orately thought-out code. She knew that he took 
infinite pains working out the meticulous program 
of her welfare. He looked far ahead, and al- 
lowed for every conceivable eventuality. He pro- 
tected her from the buffets of worldly friction by a 
wide fortification of considered training and physical 
detachment High Barrow, where they lived, wag 
thirty miles from London; their neighbours were 
families of gentle birth and culture. He kissed her 
night and morning. He called her brief, endearing 
names. He humoured her follies and her wilfulness. 
In spite of this, she did not know her father at all. 
She doubted whether anyone knew him. He never 
upbraided or scolded her; and yet at times he had 
a way of regarding her through half -closed eyes, as 
though he had observed her for the first time, and 
was considering whether she herself was really 
"germane to the subject." The sensation made 
her feel like an interrupter who: has hazarded a 
foolish remark. 

It was probably partly due to this attitude and 



DIASTOLE 13 

partly to her environment that at the age of twenty 
she was like a boy of seventeen, a rather selfish, 
very wilful, impressionable, not very well-informed 
schoolboy. For it must be observed that as an in- 
structress Miss Eidde was not very convincing. 
Thomas Power scourt's instructions to her had been 
to " teach his daughter all the elementary subjects, 
but under no circumstances to teach her music, or 
to allow her to attend concerts or theatres." 

As Miss Ridde knew no music and her knowledge 
was essentially elementary, she found no difficulty 
in following these instructions. She often cogitated 
upon the queer embargo upon music and drama, 
but it was not her business to question. The situ- 
ation was a well-paid sinecure, and, except for wil- 
ful moods, Barbara was a pleasant companion, one 
who preferred games and amusement to work. In 
any dispute Miss Eidde always gave in to her pupil. 
She had not attempted to give her lessons for years. 
Occasionally they read something together, or dis- 
cussed safe subjects in a pleasant, tentative way. 
Miss Ridde was a very useful person. She had 
quite a genius for self-effacement. 

The character of Mrs. Tollboy was more asser- 
tive, but it was one of her proudest boasts that ' ' she 
knew her place. ' ' Her respect for Thomas Powers- 
court amounted to reverential awe, and Barbara 
was his daughter. 

Her aunts, Jenny and Laura, paid fugitive visits. 
They, too, were under the spell of their brother's 
astounding reputation, and they appeared to adopt 
towards her a similar attitude of reserve. She felt 
that she would never get to know them. Both 
rather fragile old ladies, they made no attempt to 



14 HEARTBEAT 

influence or interfere with her way of life. And the 
girl had a great capacity for living. She crowded 
her day with pleasant occupations, riding, walking, 
games, lying in the sun, dreaming. She quickly 
acquired the social habit. Among the numerous 
friends who lived near by she soon detected a kind 
of herd-instinct for doing a certain thing in a cer- 
tain way, and she herself acquired this habit. There 
was a strong convention of thought and behaviour 
never openly acknowledged, but nevertheless (re- 
lentless. In these circles she even found the figure 
of her father, in spite of his distinguished' at- 
tributes, somewhat gauche. He was not assimilable. 
These people visited him, and on occasions he visit- 
ed them ; but in either case the visit was a Dead-Sea- 
fruit adventure. His manners were courteous, and 
his conversation irreproachably correct, intelligent ; 
but he had that faculty of listening without hearing, 
and of talking as though his mind were actively en- 
gaged elsewhere. 

In spite of a certain ingrained affection for her 
father, therefore, it was always with a slight feel- 
ing of relief that she heard, as on this morning, that 
he was going away. His presence acted more as a 
check upon her freedom of thought than on her free- 
dom of action. When at home he left her entirely 
to her own devices, but she could not avoid the per- 
vading consciousness of his unexpressed critical 
perceptions. Sometimes she wished he would get 
angry with her, order her to do this or that, display 
some evidence or disapproval of her numerous de- 
linquencies. His passivity dulled the flow of her 
quickly-moving thoughts. Like all young and healthy 
people, she conceived! happiness an affair of 



DIASTOLE 15 

escaping from the actuality of her environment. She 
saw herself objectively, a creature participating in 
the delights of a thousand romantic episodes, her 
mind coloured by the chromatic tissues of fiction. 
She and Miss Bidde read a great deal of fiction 
Dumas and Charles Reade, Victor Hugo, Stevenson, 
Daudet and Thackeray. Her tendencies were not 
neurotic. Love with her was essentially an affair 
of chivalry, brave deeds and self-sacrifice. Her 
tastes were masculine. Stevenson's pirates and 
Dumas' adventurers meant more to her than erotic 
imaginings. She admired those aristocratic women 
who overthrew kings and cardinals and married 
some simple fellow in the end. At the back of it all 
there lurked the ever-recurring impulse to probe 
experience, to thrill with the responsibility of quick 
decision; above all, to have a good time. She was 
not unaware of the good times to be had surrep- 
tiously in her father's house. Sometimes she felt 
an interloper, as though she were there under false 
pretences. 

IV. 

HER father was eating kidneys and bacon a fa- 
vourite dish. She kissed him lightly on the brow, 
and he wiped his mouth with his napkin, mumbling : 

1 1 Well, my dear " 

On the other side of the table was a young secre- 
tary, a beautifully groomed, rather supercilious 
young man, who said alertly : 

"May I fetch you something, Miss Powerscourtf " 

She said: "Yes, you can, please, Mr. Thornley. 
I'll have some bacon no kidneys." 

It gave her a sense of satisfaction to be waited 
on by this well-dressed person. Whilst he dived 



16 HEARTBEAT 

about amongst the silver dishes on the side table, 
she said: 

"All right after last night's depravity, Dad!" 

' * Yes, my dear, And you f ' ' 

She was all right, of course. But she had asked 
the question because she could see that her father 
wasn't. He ought not to be eating kidneys and 
bacon now. It was a very curious thing about her 
father. In spite of his aloofness from the ordinary 
distractions of social life, he was peculiarly attached 
to the good things of the table. He drank moder- 
ately, but he ate to excess. All the doctors told him 
the same thing. He was always being unwell, and 
then he liked to visit well-known specialists. He 
would listen absorbedly to what they told him. He 
would order an array of bottles of medicine. When 
they came he would hold them up to the light and 
examine them. Sometimes he would take a cork 
out and smell the medicine, but he never drank it. 
Neither did he ever take the doctor's advice. He 
went on just the same as usual. But the visit seemed 
to give him some kind of satisfaction. When on 
occasions Barbara remonstrated with him about not 
obeying the doctor's orders, he would look at her 
with mild surprise, and murmur a dim acquiescence. 
It was as though he simply had not the power to 
resist. It seemed strange that a man who had shown 
such strength of character in his public life, and 
was adamant about the nation doing the wise thing 
for itself, could not resist the oleaginous appeal of 
a slice of fried ham. 

V. 

CICELY and Jean Stradling were her chief fellow- 
conspirators in this enterprise of robbing the or- 



DIASTOLE 17 

chard of experience of its choicest fruit. Both 
pretty, companionable girls about her own age, 
daughters of a wealthy Justice of the Peace, incor- 
rigibly high-spirited, quick and clever, they brought 
her the satisfying friction of social contact, the nar- 
cotic of adulation. She revelled in their society, 
adored, schwarmed, and smothered them with em- 
braces, but, as there was nothing she could give 
them, they touched her less profoundly than she 
imagined. It !was with them, however, that she 
formed the great conspiracy. It came about through 
an occurrence at their house which had happened 
when she was seventeen. 

She had been in a sullen mood one day, unreason- 
able and quarrelsome. It was July, and the air 
was humid and enervating. She had quarrelled 
with Mrs. Tollboy and been very rude to Miss 
Ridde, and, to cap all, she felt that the Stradling 
girls didn't love her. They had some sort of party 
on, and they hadn't asked her, although their gar- 
dens adjoined. She took a book, and went and lay 
under the mulberry tree. But even Dumas bored 
her on this sultry afternoon. She wandered further 
afield. On the other side of the hedge was a green 
slope fringed by a clump of larch trees. Thither 
she drifted, and stretched herself luxuriously under 
their shade. A little later there was a sound of 
laughter. Cicely and Jean and the boy, Billy Ham- 
aton, came out into the Stradlings' garden. Their 
high-spirited fooling annoyed her more than ever, 
and she was about to vanish further amongst the 
trees when she heard one of them say : 

" Hullo! there's Barbara!" 

She could not pretend she was not there when 



18 1 HEARTBEAT 

they called to her. Cicely and Jean were perfectly 
friendly. It was probably only by chance that they 
had not asked her in. Jean cried out : 
"Oh, do come in, Barbara. We're having a rag." 
She did not want to go. She was not in the mood, 
and she was feeling slightly aggrieved. Neverthe- 
less she answered politely enough, and in a few 
minutes' time found herself wandering on the 
Stradlings' lawn. One or two elderly people came 
out through the French windows and talked to- 
gether in groups. No one was particularly interested 
in Barbara. She sat on a deck chair on the edge 
of the lawn. The boy wanted to talk to her, but 
Cicely and Jean were in one of their giggling moods, 
and they dragged him to the croquet-lawn, where a 
game of clock golf was in progress. And then as 
she sat there in idle dejection, there occurred to her 
one of those little experiences which sometimes 
affect one's whole life. Through the open doors 
came the sound of a song. A French girl was sing- 
ing "La Pauvre Innocente." As she listened to the 
notes of this delightful song, something stirred 
within her. Her whole nature responded to the 
melodic appeal. Deep, inexplicable yearnings found 
their partial solution. She felt intensely happy 
. ' . . elated. She dimly realised that during 
all these years one side of her nature had been 
starved. And it was her father who was responsi- 
ble. He had lavished upon her every luxury and 
comfort except the one thing she needed most pro- 
foundly. She began to wonder what was the secret 
of this deprivation. Why? Why this terrible em- 
bargo? She was not conscious of her loss till that 
moment, for the reason that she had never before 



DIASTOLE 19 

heard music of good enough quality to be moved by 
it. But on that afternoon she became abruptly 
aware that it was a necessity of existence. When 
the song was finished her eyes glowed brightly, her 
breath came in little stabs. She arose and walked 
away quickly into the woods, her senses tingling 
with the thrill of her experience. 

When the party was over she went back and visited 
Cicely and Jean. She had forgiven them for 
their haphazard invitation. She was affectionate 
and discursive ; she told them the exact truth of her 
experience. In her father's house there' was no 
piano at all, no musical instrument of any kind; 
music was forbidden. 

"I will never rest," she concluded, "till I can 
sing like that girl or better." 

Cicely and Jean were appropriately sympathetic. 
Jean was having music lessons herself from a Miss 
Trent, who came to her once a week. Why should 
Barbara not come across and have a lesson at the 
same time? She could use their piano whenever 
she liked. But surely, if her father were approach- 
ed properly, he would only be too delighted such 
a kind, generous, easy-going man. Well, Barbara 
would make one attempt, but she had an ominous 
presentiment of the result. 

And she was right. He listened puffily to her ap- 
peal, moved into the shadow of the window recess, 
unnerved her with the implication of a long, critical 
silence, then boomed in the impersonal voice of an 
oracle echoing through the hollow gloom of a for- 
gotten temple: 

"No; I don't wish you to learn music. Why not 
paint flowers?" 



20 HEARTBEAT 

There was something thin, almost callous, in this 
latter phrase. Paint flowers ! Like the oracle, too, 
it carried with it the weight of ambiguity. What 
did he mean? Why should she paint flowers? What 
kind of spiritual substitute was this? It was like 
offering a nosegay to a tiger, and the man was dis- 
mally aware of it. It was the idle, evasive remark 
of a prisoner fencing for time. 

Barbara would not paint flowers ; she would learn 
to sing. 

VI. 

THAT was four years ago. During those four years 
she had worked secretly at the piano, and at sing- 
ing. She was no musical genius, but she had a 
clear, light soprano voice, a good sense of rhythm, 
an adequate technique for simple, melodious bal- 
lads. She could now sing "La Pauvre Innocente" 
as well as the girl who inspired her to do it. It had 
been a great struggle to conceal her little accom- 
plishment from her father. It was such a temp- 
tation to sing about the house, such a necessity to 
sing in the bath-room. But on those occasions, 
when some phrase escaped her, she had always re- 
pented it. He would speak sharply and angrily to 
her, and to this she was not accustomed. Once he 
had surprised her in the garden, and exclaimed : 

"What is that song? Where did you learn it?" 

She had replied perfunctorily : 

"Oh, I don't know. I heard someone singing it." 

She was frightened by him, frightened by his sil- 
ences and the heavy weight of years which lay be- 
tween them. And something in her had hardened 
a little. The deception over the singing bred other 



DIASTOLE 21 

little deceptions. As she developed, some inner 
voice kept repeating: "A girl has got to look after 
herself. I'm not going to be browbeaten." 

As she could not cope with him directly she em- 
played other methods. She went to concerts 
and theatres, and made up lies to account for her 
absence. She learned to flirt. It was Billy Hamaton 
who first initiated her into this intriguing form of 
pastime; and she enjoyed it enormously, until she 
found, one day, that Billy Hamaton was no longer 
flirting. The boy was in dead earnest. It was very 
disconcerting, and dangerous, and well, what does 
a girl do in a case like that? It was a great pity; it 
would spoil everything; and yet there was a grim 
joy in adventure behind her father's back. 

Once she had been very ill: a fever which lasted 
several weeks. Her father had been alarmed. She 
knew this by his restless movements and furtive 
visits. Old Dr. James, the local practitioner, had 
been in daily attendance. One day he brought an- 
other doctor, older than himself, a great specialist 
from London. She had overheard them whispering 
together when she was supposed to be sleeping. One 
had said: 

"By Jove! yes, she's the spit and image of 
Kitty." 

"Did you know her?" asked the other. 

"Well enough. I don't envy the child her herit- 
age." 

They had moved away, whispering interestedly. 

Oh, so that was it ! Her mother's name was Kitty, 
and she had left an unhappy heritage. Barbara 
stored the memory of this incident in her mind. 
Poor mother! Where was she? What had she done? 



22 HEARTBEAT 

Throughout the house there was no portrait of her, 
no memento, nothing to indicate that a woman had 
ever been its mistress. She had been told that her 
mother died when she herself was a baby, but no- 
thing else had been said at all about her. 

Sometimes the house appeared a playground of 
distressing memories almost insupportable. Well, 
there it was! Her secret music absorbed her, and 
she was not the kind to indulge in maudlin retro- 
spection. The past was dead: young people were 
calling to her in the sunlit garden. The beautiful 
secretary was stuffing papers into an attache case, 
her father was mumbling : 

"Well, my dear, look after yourself!" 
The great car purred at the door with a noise 
like the stomach-rumbles of an animal at feeding- 
time. Mrs. Tollboy was very much in evidence. 
The last instructions were given. The car devoured 
its victims, and with a satisfied toot as it rounded 
the drive glided away in the silence of repletion. 
Phew ! what a relief ! A week of freedom, and fun, 
and . . . music. 

VII. 

BILLY HAMATON and the Stradling girls were al- 
ready there, pink-coloured and bright-eyed, playing 
an improvised game with a stick and a straw basket 
on the upper lawn. 

"You must come and see the pony," she yelled. 

Tarbrush was certainly an engaging little beast, 
with a shiny mane, a long black tail, and a great 
sense of humour. He gave the impression that he 
was used to children and young people and their 
ways, and he preferred them genteel and well- 



DIASTOLE 23 

dressed. For the stable-boy he showed a profound 
contempt, but he allowed Barbara to ride him bare- 
back up and down the yard. He appeared to say: 

"This is quite all right. This is my mistress. 
She has bought and paid for me, and I was very, 
very expensive. My pedigree would make you sit 
up." 

He allowed himself to be hugged, and called a 
darling; he condescended to eat handfuls of crisp 
white sugar. 

They then went down to the little stream on the 
other side of the coppice, and Billy performed im- 
pressive feats of leaping by the aid of a pole. He was 
agile and neatly-made ; he excelled at games that did 
not require great strength or endurance. They lunch- 
ed under the mulberry tree, a joyous meal of pies and 
fruit and lemonade. The afternoon was devoted to 
tennis, the only thing they did that day that was 
conducted with grim earnestness. Then followed 
tea at the Stradlings ', with large iced cakes, endless 
if not very profound jokes, joyous banalities, and 
laughter all the time. Oh, it was great fun; the 
kind of day that brings out the best in one. They 
were in that humour when everything is outrage- 
ously funny the angle of a tea-cosy, the colour of 
Billy's socks, an inane remark about cook's young 
man anything and everything. Just when the 
progression of these pleasantries might have be- 
gun to pall, the position was vitalised by an unex- 
pected visitor. At the very sight of him the quar- 
tette screamed with laughter. It had been one of 
the assets of George Champneys' career that people 
laughed directly he came on the stage. At the same 
time, you could not exactly tell why. He was a man 



24 HEARTBEAT 

between forty and fifty, with a droll, fat, clean- 
shaven face. He was not particularly ugly, certain- 
ly not grotesque but he exuded a kind of contag- 
ious appreciation of the grotesque. You knew that 
he knew that you knew how intensely comic some 
aspect or attitude appeared to him. He had you 
in his pocket, as it were ; and so must it always be 
with a good comedian. After meeting the outburst 
of his reception with an appropriate display of 
facial contortion, he exclaimed dramatically: 

"This won't do, old boy, you know. It won't do! 
It won't do ! It won't do ! " 

Now, why on earth was that funny? Barbara 
laughed till the tears streamed down her cheeks. 
He then turned to Cicely and Jean and said quite 
simply: 

"Is the guv 'nor out, my dears?" 

"Yes; he's up in town, George." 

Barbara whispered to Jean : 

"Who is he?" 

And Jean whispered back: 

"Don't you know? It's George Champneys. He's 
head of the Frolics awful clever. Sends compan- 
ies out. You'd love him on the stage." 

In the meantime George was calling Billy "old 
boy," much to the latter 's delight. Suddenly he 
turned to Barbara and said : 

"Who is our young friend here?" 

"This is Barbara Powerscourt, " said Jean. 

George took Barbara's hand and held it. Then 
he searched her face keenly with his protruding grey 
eyes, and suddenly muttered "Fine!" There was 
nothing objectionable or over-familiar in the way he 
did this. Barbara merely felt that she had been 



DIASTOLE 25 

approved of by a friendly and critical being, and she 
blushed accordingly with extreme pleasure. She 
was excited moreover. She was suddenly in touch 
with the sentient, moving, forbidden world. An 
actor! indeed a famous actor, one who made the 
multitude kneel to him. A real comedian! What 
would her father think? Cicely was exclaiming: 

"Oh, George, do tell us some stories.'* 

And Jean was clasping her hands and saying: 
"Yes, do, do!" 

"No," said George; "I can't tell you any stories, 
but I'll give you an imitation of the Lub." 

" Whatever 's the Lub?" 

"Don't you know the Lub? the half-brother to 
the Chunt? They make a noise like this: 'F'rrh! 
F'rrh!' You feed them on peaches and straw-hat 
dye. Wonderful old sportsmen. I had one that 
died of tennis elbow at the age of ninety-seven. Of 
course, they are not so intelligent as the stoofs 
these are surprising beasts. As far as I know, 
there's only one left, and that belongs to a tram- 
car conductor in Manchester." 

He leaned towards Barbara and said very earn- 
estly : 

"Do you know that the Stoof can add up eight 
columns of figures while thinking out the menu for 
next Monday week's breakfast?" 

George Champneys was merely adapting him- 
self to the atmosphere in which he had happened to 
drift. Young people were food and wine to him. 
It was from them he drew the spirit of spontaneous 
fooling and adapted it to his own ends. But prob- 
ably those burlesques of his, which were famous 
throughout the country, would not have been so 



26 HEARTBEAT 

good had it not been that in the presence of youth 
he felt not only gaiety, but a deep sense of bitter- 
ness a kind of savage hunger. 

He fooled to some purpose on that afternoon; 
was extremely droll, high-spirited, in his heart ut- 
terly lonely; and was about to make his departure 
when Jean said : 

" Let's make Barbara sing." 

The making of Barbara sing was a protracted 
and keenly fought struggle, but at length she sat at 
the piano, and sang "La Pauvre Irwocente." 

Oh, la pauvre innocente! Champneys lay back in 
the comfortable Chesterfield, and his grey eyes mel- 
lowed. There was something clear-cut and incisive 
about Barbara, her dark hair silhouetted against 
a malachite damask curtain. Directly she began to 
sing she became immersed in her job. She accom- 
panied herself with point and discretion. Her voice 
was flexible and expressive. By Jove! she had 
everything except training. George could see exact- 
ly what he could make of her. She would make a 
splendid "Frolic," and shqj was young, young 
ah! so wonderfully young. She also sang "Le 
miracle de Sainte Berthe" and a little song by 
Strauss. 

He was solemn when he rose to go. He took her 
hand and smiled. 

"If ever you want a job, Barbara, you come to 
me." 

That, of course, was another enormous joke! 
What a jolly ripping person was George Champ- 
neys ! He lighted his pipe, gave the girls a friendly 
pat, and ambled away. 



DIASTOLE 27 

vni. 

THE day was beginning to draw in. Long deep shad- 
ows crept across the lawns. Bees were working 
overtime among the lupins. A flock of rooks cawed 
noisily up in the elms. Everything appeared to be- 
come accentuated . . . tense. Oh, how vital 
and moving was this day of days! Barbara had 
never been so happy, never so in touch with the big 
moving spectacle of life. She, she was the pivot of 
it all. She saw herself the heroine of breathless 
movements, quickly changing and developing. The 
world loved her and wanted her. She would tri- 
umph and succeed. They loved her, but they didn't 
know how much she had to give. She was some- 
thing special ; she knew that. Restrictions and limit- 
ations which applied to ordinary humanity did not 
apply to her. Up, and up, and up, the rest worship- 
ping, and she wanting to be so kind. Ah, yes, she 
would always be that. That perhaps was the great- 
est joy of all ... out of her great powers, to 
give. 

Billy was looking at her dolefully and saying, "I 
shall have to go. ' ' 

"Oh, no,'* she cried, "not yet. It's too lovely. 
Let's climb the mulberry tree in our garden?" 

"It makes your flannels so beastly dirty," said 
Billy. "Besides, I promised the mater I'd be home 
at seven." 

"Coward!" 

"I'm not a coward. Do you dare me?" 

"Yes, I do. I'll climb higher than you." 

"Oh, Barbara, don't be absurd. You'll tear your 
frock." This frbm Jean. 

"I've had enough sports to-day," echoed Cicely. 



28 HEARTBEAT 

But Barbara was already through the gate divid- 
ing the gardens. 

"Come on, Billy; I challenge you." 

Before he had reached the tree, Barbara was 
swinging on the first branch. It was a very old tree, 
and not difficult to climb. Up and up she went, and 
where she went Billy, of course, had to follow. She 
was there chasing the elf of adventure, and Billy 
was there to show that he was not going to be beat- 
en by a girl. Indeed, he knew he was committed 
further than that, for when Barbara had reached 
her limit, he must manlike go a bit further. They 
panted and swung and hugged the thick branches. 

"Now," said Barbara, at last. "This is my fav- 
ourite spot. Look; you can't see the ground. One 
might be miles and miles up in the sky." 

The boy pulled himself up beside her, panting. 

"I love it like this, when you float in a pattern of 
leaves and sky, the sun dancing through. You can 
imagine there is no earth at all, nothing below you, 
only this going on till you reach Heaven, the birds 
bringing you messages now and then from the peo- 
ple you love. It's all so near, so near, Billy." 

The sun made patterns on his jolly, freckled face. 
He put his arm round her. 

"I love you, Barbara." 

"Do you, Billy!" 

For a moment she was sustained in an altitude 
of surrender. If one must be loved, where more 
appropriate than the top of a tree? There appeared 
to be nothing more to desire. He kissed her cheek 

"You'll marry me one day, Barbara?" 

She did not answer. Why shatter the spectrum 
of this supreme illusion? How did she know? How 



DIASTOLE 29 

could she tell? Let us go on up. Suddenly his lips 
were pressed against hers, and she exclaimed : 

"Oh, no. Don't do that, Billy. You'll spoil every- 
thing." 

She was sorry for him then. He looked so fool- 
ish and self-conscious as he muttered: 

"I'm sorry." 

They sat side by side in an awkward silence. Then 
Billy roused himself and said: 

"Come on, then, my flibbertigibbet." 

He wriggled upwards towards the next branch. 
He was out to excel himself, to accomplish by a 
gesture what he had failed to do by declamation. By 
this means have pioneers established great colonies, 
captains and kings succeeded or failed. 

She watched his lithe body wriggling along a 
branch, his brown hair all awry, spotted with little 
leaves and fronds. They were alone up in this en- 
chanted place. She suddenly felt strangely disturbed, 
as though the forces of her life had reached a 
climacteric. 

"It's no good," she thought. "I believe I want 
him ; I want Billy for my very own. ' ' 

The branches were shaking above her. She could 
only see his legs, the rubber shoes pressing against 
the bark. 

"Careful, Billy!" 

Why this sudden cold transition to foreboding? 
Why this fear of the unseen ground beneath? She 
remembered that the tree was very, very old ... 
hundreds of years, people said. 

"Billy! Billy! . . . not too high! Please!" 

Then she shrank against the stem, paralysed with 



30 HEARTBEAT 

horror. She felt it all almost before it had happened. 
That sudden snap of a branch like a pistol-shot 
. the body hurtling through the leaves, 
which seemed to whistle as it passed through them ; 
the thump upon a branch below, a gasp of pain, a 
thousand years, filled by a scream from Cicely, and 
then that awful dull thud upon the soil beneath. 
How she got down she had no recollection. Cicely 
and Jean, white to the lips, were leaning over the 
boy. He was curled up sideways and his face ap- 
peared quite green. He clutched the grass convul- 
sively with his left hand, but he uttered no sound. 

Cicely kept repeating: "0 God, he's hurt!" 

Jean seemed unable to move or think. It was 
Barbara who raced into the house. Where would 
everybody be? She wanted everybody. Mrs. Toll- 
boy, Miss Bidde, Beaver, her father's man, Mrs. 
Warner, the cook, Sally, the three house-maids 
anybody who could run or do anything. An inspir- 
ation flashed upon her as she entered the hall. She 
snatched up the stick and beat the dinner-gong with 
the fury of despair. Heads and bodies appeared 
from various part of the house. 

"Come! Come quick, all of you. Billy Hamaton's 
hurt!" 

They carried him in and put him upon a bed in 
a spare room. He was semi-conscious, still groan- 
ing, still suffering pain. Beaver rode off on a 
bicycle to fetch the doctor. The three girls stared 
disconsolately at each other. 

1 'I dared him to do it," said Barbara, in the tone- 
less accents of dismay. 



DIASTOLE 31 

IX. 

IT was exactly a week later, on the day of her 
father's return, that they told her the truth about 
Billy. He had been taken away to a hospital on a 
stretcher. He was alive. He might live for years ; he 
might even live to old age. But he would never, never 
be able to walk again ; neither walk, nor run, nor play 
tennis, nor climb trees. His spine was damaged. 
The case was incurable, and there was even the dark 
menace of insanity. When she heard this, she stared 
dry-eyed into the garden which to her had once 
appeared so beautiful. She had called him a cow- 
ard. 

"Come on, Billy. I challenge you." 
She wandered out into the country. Her primal 
instinct was to avoid her fellow-creatures, like an 
animal stricken with disease. She dreaded her 
father's return. If she could only escape from it 
all, persuade herself that it had never happened. 
. She heard him arrive in the early even- 
ing, and she went to her room and sent word that 
she had a headache, and didn't require any dinner. 
But after a time she heard his heavy footsteps on 
the stairs, followed by three familiar taps upon her 
door. He entered without her calling out. 

He made a few solicitous enquiries about her as- 
sumed illness : an impossible man to deceive. Then 
he perched himself upon a chair that appeared to 
be inadequately constructed for such a diversion, 
and wheezed : 

"A bad business this about young Hamaton." 
"I don't want to talk to him about it," she kept 
on thinking; and then quite irrelevantly: "He looks 
absurd in that small chair." 



32 HEARTBEAT 

Her father regarded her with his heavy, dog-like 
scrutiny. 

''Better eat something, my dear. Will keep you 
going. Mustn't give way." 

She answered almost crossly: 

"I don't want anything." 

After he had gone she cried a little, and then lay 
quite inert, staring at the wall. 

The sun went down. She heard the distant sounds 
of servants' movements, waiting on her father. The 
distraction kept breaking across her mobile reflec- 
tions. 

Now he is having his fish . . . now he is 
having his grouse, done in that (special way he 
makes so much fuss about . . . now he, is 
telling Beaver to warn cook not to overdo the cay- 
enne pepper in the savoury . . . now he is 
drinking his one glass of port, smacking his lips and 
holding the glass up to the light . . . now 
he is lighting his cigar. 

And all the time Billy is suffering . . . ter- 
rible agonies. If he should go mad ! 

The night came, with its inchoate imaginings, 
passages of suspended animation, troubled dreams, 
swift awakenings, an untiring and relentless pro- 
gression of self-analysis, whether dreaming or 
awake. Upon the question of her responsibility for 
Billy's condition she had no illusions, and it did not 
help her to know that the world would not agree 
with her self-imposed sentence. Young people play- 
ing together . . . these things will happen 
. . . no one responsible. Who was to know 
that the branch was rotten? These logical conclus- 
ions would not satisfy her; they jarred her sensibil- 



DIASTOLE 33 

ities. She wanted to suffer more directly. If only 
she could be punished, sent to prison, beaten, treat- 
ed as they used to treat a witch in olden times ! She 
was a witch. Her witchery had destroyed Billy. 
Almost his last words were : 

"I love you, Barbara." 

Up and up he had gone, pandering to her witch- 
craft. And then 

In that pattern of sunlight and leaves she had 
decided that she loved him, that he was necessary 
to her. The confession had been trembling upon her 
lips. She was not committed; at the time she was 
even a little uncertain. But now the stark reality 
of the position came home to her. If she were pled- 
ged in her heart to Billy at that moment, she was 
even more pledged to him now. She would have to 
marry him and nurse him to the end of his days. 
This was the least she could do, the humblest aton- 
ment. The realisation shocked and thrilled her. She 
was frightened. Marriage in its happiest aspects 
had terrifying features, but a marriage haunted by 
the spectres of suffering and remorse was an almost 
unendurable thing to contemplate. Her mind be- 
came active with a visualisation of all the restric- 
tions and inhibitions, the setting up of different stan- 
dards, the cleavage from the old order of carefree 
enjoyment. Her spirit would be freed and quick- 
ened by the grim consciousness of sacrifice. She 
would lose everything; at the same time she would 
gain something which the world could not take from 
her. But, dear God! would that it had not hap- 
pened! . . . She lay there, trembling, in the 
darkness. . . . Did she really love Billy so 
much as all that? 



34 HEARTBEAT 



SHE heard her father go to his room; the usual 
sounds of the large house closing down for the 
night. How solemn and distant it all seemed. She 
felt that she would never be part of it again. After 
a time she sighed and passed into a gentle sleep. 
Strange, very, very strange, but her dreams were 
not about Billy at all. It was very curious . . . - * . 
everyone was so kind. And there were thousands 
of them, thousands and thousands, and they were 
stretching out their hands and smiling at her; and 
there were flowers and bouquets, and George Champ- 
neys was leaning back in an easy-chair and looking 
so kind and friendly; and he was saying: 

"That's right, my dear; sing "La Pauvre In- 
nocente." 

She sang it, but at the second verse she broke 
down and cried. Oh, dear! why was she crying? 
The crying awakened her to the utter stillness of 
the house. 

"It's the least I can do," she flung into the dark- 
ness. 

And suddenly her heart was filled with a great 
pity, not only for Billy, but for herself, her father, 
the whole world. . . . She ached for human 
contact. It's all so empty without each other. She 
thought of her father, lying there alone in the dark- 
ness. What anguish and sorrow might he not have 
endured in his life, so remote from hers. Perhaps 
at that instant he was lying there, wide-eyed and 
unhappy, yearning for her mother. . . . The 
stillness of the house seemed suffocating. With a 
sob she arose, slipped on a dressing-gown, and crept 



DIASTOLE 35 

out into the passage. Very gently she turned the 
handle of her father's door, and whispered: 

"Daddy." 

The dull reverberation of stentorian breathing 
greeted her. She called a little louder: 

"Daddy! Daddy!" 

The noise only increased in violence, accented by 
the explosive crises of nauseating snores. She shut 
the door quickly and withdrew, her heart filled with 
bitterness. 

"One gets old, and forgets," she thought. The 
reflection angered her; at the same time she felt 
that old hardening process working in her spirit. 
"A girl has got to look after herself." How was 
it that this phrase sometimes came to her like an 
admonition from some far-off friend! She hated 
her father. "He's nothing to me; nothing, nothing. 
I'm hungry," she thought savagely. It was not that 
she could not have eaten dinner; it was only that 
she could not watch her father eat. )She went quietly 
down into the larder. She cut herself a thick 
slice of ham and bread. She sat on the kitchen 
table, eating it and swinging her legs. 

Then she drank a glass of water, and went back 
to bed. 

She felt better now, more contained, more mis- 
tress of herself . . . and very, very sleepy. 

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she 
thought drowsily. "But I'm not going to make a 
fool of myself. . . . To-morrow I'm going to 
learn that new song by Roger Quilter. I wonder 
whether Mr. Champneys would like it." 

When the dawn came, and the starling fluttered 
against the window, her heart responded gratefully 



36 HEARTBEAT 

as it did on that morning a week ago, and her slum- 
bering senses quivered with the prescience of de- 
lightful coming things. 

XI. 

THE weeks that followed marked a period of sus- 
pense. Her critical faculties were sharpened. The 
revulsion against her father became accentuated in 
the glow of a rebellious judgment. She began to 
watch him closely, his goings and comings, his re- 
moteness, the complete concentration of his; cen- 
tralised outlook. She no longer accepted him as a 
passionless fate; he was a creature to be dissected 
and analysed, like other creatures. Her thoughts 
darted round him like fireflies trying to illumine 
some mysterious object in the, dark. Their light 
was not powerful, and she observed more by the 
glimmer of her intuitions than by the direct light 
of her observations, above all things she became 
acutely aware of his inordinate capacity for cruelty. 
It must be so. Not the ordered cruelty of human 
passion, but the cruelty which emanates from a 
complete inability to acknowledge any point of view 
other than one's own, a kind of perverted egoism. 
So secure was he in the sanctity of his tradition, in 
the power of his mental equipment, that he would 
regard any infringement of the code he represented 
in the way that he had regarded the interrupter in 
the House, as a thing of so little consequence that 
it could hardly be said to exist. How terribly cruel 
such a man could be ! 

Barbara had always been an initial safely depo- 
sited within the letter of the code. She took her 



DIASTOLE 37 

place, carefully tended and appraised. But if if 
she should ever revolt! The reflection naturally 
acted as a challenge to her militant self-respect. 
She had already revolted over the matter of the 
music. She had revolted in many! little way he 
knew not of. But was this enough? The upheaval 
of her whole moral and spiritual outlook, caused by 
the accident to Billy, reacted upon her provocatively. 
She pranced within a vicious circle of despair. 
Her training and environment left her unprepared 
to face a serious disruption indeed, to face trouble 
of any kind. She was in the mood to lose her head. 
The instinct of untrained people in a struggle is to 
strike wildly. She could not by any stretch of the 
imagination hold her father responsible for Billy's 
fall. But his aggravating impassiveness appeared 
to her as the proper target for her blows. It was 
perhaps a small thing that he snored on the night 
when Billy was suffering so after all, why should 
he care about Billy Hamaton? but it was a spark 
which seemed to her to light many x of the 'dark 
spaces of his character. Immediately she thought 
of a thousand other little incidents in her life 
things which had not impressed her at the time, but 
which now seemed charged with significance. Her 
mother? . . . What had her mother suffered, 
when, perhaps, she too revolted against the letter 
of the code? 

xn. 

SHE had seen Billy, and the sight of him had racked 
her heart. Not that he was suffering now; he had 
been gay enough, and had chaffed her for her 
mournful face. The cruellest thing seemed to her 



38 HEARTBEAT 

that he did not know. He believed he was soon to 
be well again, and his naive optimism increased her 
sense of responsibility a hundredfold. She wanted 
to tell him, to feel the torture of his condemnation ; 
but she went away with the vision of his eyes filled 
with love, and longing, and gratitude. 

And yet, as the days went by, another little voice 
kept repeating: 

"You don't really love Billy. You never did. You 
liked him, and you liked him loving you. You were 
flattered, elated, in a kind of ecstasy like a bird up 
there in that pattern of sunlight and leaves. It was 
the singing of that song, the approval you got, the 
glamour of George Champneys all these things 
excited you. A glorious day, wasn't it? Oh, you 
fool!" 

She hardly dared listen to this voice, so con- 
sumed was she with the passionate desire for sacri- 
fice, and the craving for revolt. 

One evening her father arrived home very late 
to dinner. He had been addressing a political meet- 
ing in his own constituency. He was tired, a little 
flustered, and preoccupied. She heard afterwards 
that he had been severely heckled by some Labour 
people. She watched him closely as h$ took his seat 
at the table. In this duel she meant to have with 
him she knew that she must seize every advantage 
of time and position. All the heavy weapons were 
on her father's side. She had dined earlier in the 
evening, but she thought it advisable to sit with 
him, and be patient and amiable. She knew that to 
question him about the meeting would only anger 
him. She was allowed no place in his political pre- 
occupations. So she inquired about his health, and 



DIASTOLE 39 

talked placidly of local events. His eyes were con- 
centrated on his plate as he rumbled vague acquies- 
cences. The succession of dishes nauseated her. She 
was waiting for Beaver to retire, and to leave the 
master alone with his decanter of port. Would the 
meal never end? She thought: 

"How awful it is that one gets old, insensible to 
all the finer shades of feeling! Is it like that with 
all old people that they become material and crus- 
ted and careless, making horrid little noises when 
they eat ... fiddling with a toothpick be- 
tween the courses, because there is no one present 
but myself? How revolting it all is!" 

The inevitable savoury came and went. She 
watched Beaver remove the last traces of crumb 
and disruption, place the jardiniere of fruit within 
reach, also the decanter of port, and the small case 
of liqueur-bottles (which her father never touched). 

"Coffee, sir?" 

Beaver had asked that question every evening 
for twelve and a half years ever since he had been 
in the service and he had always met with a re- 
fusal, but he still persisted to ask hopefully and to 
retire apparently crestfallen and dispirited on re- 
ceiving a negative reply. 

Barbara landed her first blow. 

"Daddy, I want to marry Billy Hamaton." 

Thomas Powerscourt was holding a glass of port 
up to the light, and regarding it critically. When 
his daughter said this his face showed no general 
disposition to change. He seemed more concerned 
not to spill the port than anything else. His hand 
was trembling, and he hesitated; then he brought 
the glass up to his heavy lips, and took a deep sip. 



40 HEARTBEAT 

He spluttered lightly as he set it down, and blinked 
across the room at the girl. In spite of the perfect 
control of his features she could detect the swift re- 
flection of disturbed surprise. He spoke very slowly 
and languidly : 

"You can't, my dear. His spine ... Sir 
Alfred tells me he can never recover." 

Barbara had got her opening, and she knew that 
now was the time to strike quickly. Her voice was 
eager and tearful. 

"I know. I know all about that, but I can't help 
it. I owe it to him. I love him, and he loves me. 
Can't you see? it was all my fault that he climbed 
the tree. He didn't want to. I dared him. I called 
him a coward. It's all through me he's lying there 
helpless. I can't desert him just because of this 
because he's ill. It would be too mean. I shall have 
to go to him, nurse him as long as he lives. I will 
do it whatever anybody says." 

She was on the verge of tears her most power- 
ful weapon. But Thomas Powerscourt had now 
complete control of himself. He was very gentle, 
almost sympathetic. 

"It's very unfortunate, my dear; very regret- 
table. You take an exaggerated view of your re- 
sponsibility. A mere accident young people play- 
ing together. Why, he might have challenged you; 
the position might have been reversed " 

Barbara was lying in wait for that. She exclaim- 
ed fiercely: 

"If the position had been reversed, do you think 
Billy wouldn't have married me?" 

It seemed to take a long time for this to sink in ; 
then he said judicially: 



DIASTOLE 41 

"I should say most certainly no. He would not 
have married you. ' ' 

Barbara went white with anger. She could hard- 
ly gasp: 

''Then you don't know him. It shows what a low 
ideal you have " 

The big man stood up and walked to the fireplace. 
He too was angry, and this was evident only by the 
slightly increased clearness of his diction, making 
his voice sound utterly toneless : 

"There is perhaps one aspect of the case you 
do not understand." 

What was coming? Why didn't he rage at her? 

4 'You probably have not considered, Barbara, or 
you do not know if you married young Hamaton, 
your married life would perforce have to be child- 
less " 

"Well, that can't be helped. Many women are 
childless." 

"M'm, m'm." He purred at her, nodding his 
head like an imitation Chinese god. For a moment 
he appeared about to overwhelm her with some 
cyclonic outburst; then he paused, 'as though re- 
garding the delicate ground between them. 

"I am thinking of your good," he said deliber- 
ately. "I want you to be happy and to have chil- 
dren." Quite as an after-thought he added: "I 
have no son." 

Barbara rose at him. 

"Ah, I see! You have no son, so I am to bear 
a son for you. He won't carry your name, but the 
stock will survive, I suppose. You're thinking of 
me and my good, and my happiness ! Well, I'm cap- 
able of thinking of my own happiness, thank you. 



42 HEARTBEAT 

I'm not always going to do just what you tell me. 
You wouldn't let me have music, which I crave for; 
you wouldn't let me go to theatres or concerts, the 
one kind of thing which appeals to me more than 
anything else. You give no reason, no excuse. Well, 
I tell you straight out, I'm going to marry whom I 
like." 

The surpris'e upon his face was of peculiar qual- 
ity. He appeared not greatly moved, not, indeed, 
greatly surprised at what she said so much as sur- 
prised by some inner recollection. It was the face 
of a man passing through an experience which he 
is vaguely conscious of having passed through be- 
fore. And the realisation causes him to doubt his 
own identity. Barbara and her little affair with 
Billy seemed far away. He sighed, took out a hand- 
kerchief and mopped his brow. Then in his normal 
voice he mumbled : 

"We are on the eve of a great political crisis. 
. . . I am very tired, my dear. Let us discuss 
this some other time." 

XIII. 

BABBARA was beaten. As the days passed her forces 
became diffused; time was against her. Her weak- 
est point was that she did not love Billy enough. If 
she were really fighting for her own happiness, she 
knew quite well that to marry him was not the way 
to attain it. The day would come when she would 
bitterly rue it. It angered her to know that her 
father was right. It doesn't do to give way to a 
sentimental whim. The shock had unnerved her. 
Poor Billy! she could give him her pity, even her 



DIASTOLE 43 

love, but it would be foolish to marry him. She 
had loved what he represented, the life they had 
passed together. She associated him with sunny 
days and gay, irresponsible fun. Together they had 
built a little edifice of happy days, buttressed with 
understanding, familiar jokes and sympathetic ap- 
preciation of each other's genius for life. The ac- 
cident had shattered it, and it would become nec- 
essary to reconstruct. But she could not build upon 
the site of the other. Games and follies would be 
haunted by the ghost of Billy. She would have to 
alter the whole tenor of her life. Her protective in- 
stinct told her that salvation lay in work. She must 
have something to do that would absorb her. Work ! 
But what work? If her father would not let her 
work at music, what was she to do? 

Her aunts Jenny and Laura shared a. small flat 
at Ashley Gardens, Westminster. It contained two 
spare bedrooms, one of which was always reserved 
for the important brother. He sometimes occupied 
it when the House was sitting late. Barbara had 
occasionally paid brief visits there, but she did not 
like it. The rooms seemed cramped, the air was 
cramped; above all things, the lives of her aunts 
were cramped. They were timid old ladies, very 
patriotic and religious, and their lives seemed one 
long plaint about what things were coming to. They 
were like two autumn leaves blown along in a gale. 
In a shiftless and unstable world nothing seemed 
secure except their brother Thomas Powerscourt. 
Without the solid weight of his intellect and char- 
acter England would perish; even the other mem- 
bers of the Cabinet he adorned filled them with sus- 
picion. It was not an atmosphere, therefore, which 



44 HEARTBEAT 

Barbara felt would be likely to spell freedom from 
her father's silent tyranny; nevertheless it was the 
only place she could think of as a temporary refuge. 
It had the advantage of being in a centre of vivid 
distractions, and a visit there would not be likely 
to arouse suspicions. She wrote to her Aunt Jenny, 
and received a pressing invitation by return of 
post. Her father fully approved, and took her up 
to town himself. 

"I'm very busy, Jenny," he panted, as he de- 
posited his daughter in the hall. "The political 
situation is serious, very serious indeed. I may 
have to take advantage of your hosptality quite a 
bit just now. This Shipping Bill . . . Eaynes 
is trying to fog the issue. Take care of Barbara. 
She's been she's had a bit of an upset. I shall 
probably be in to-night." 

Oh, yes, a capable diplomatist. What a lot he 
could crowd into a few commonplace sentences. 
Hinting at the aunts' hospitality, when he was pay- 
ing all the time. The absorption in the political situ- 
ation giving him excuse to be ever on the watch. The 
remark about the "upset" playing upon the sym- 
pathies of all concerned, whilst probably on the 
stairs on the way down he would chuckle inwardly 
over his victory in the affair of "that young Ham- 
aton." 

XIV. 

THE abrupt cleavage from her normal associations 
bewildered and stimulated her. She felt like an ex- 
plorer in a dangerous and untrodden land. The 
more she suffered from the loss of Cicely and Jean 
and their environment, the more alert did she be- 



DIASTOLE 45 

come to the flavour of her own independence. There 
was a fierce joy in missing things and being ever on 
the watch. The pursuit of what she manfully called 
work was fraught with difficulties. The mild activ- 
ities of her aunts, mostly connected with Church 
charities, did not appeal to her. Reviewing the oc- 
cupations of her fellow-civilians, she quickly real- 
ised her own amazing ignorance and lack of train- 
ing. There was nothing, absolutely nothing she 
could do to satisfy her instinct of service. To be a 
nurse required years of training; clerical or office 
work demanded a type of mind she had not got ; the 
way of the Arts was long and steep; science was 
an unopened book. It seemed strange to think 
that if she had had to earn her living she would 
surely have starved. The reflection caused her to 
nurture a further dull resentment against her 
father, but, strangely enough, it did not depress 
her. It is something to know that one is ignorant. 
Besides, there was something she could do. She 
kept circling round the subject, pretending to her- 
self that she was looking for something else, but in 
her inmost heart knowing all the time she meant to 
do it. One morning she told her aunts that she was 
going to South Kensington Museum. She dressed 
herself with care and taste, and started forth. She 
did indeed go to Kensington, but not to the Muse- 
um. She turned off into a quiet square near Ad- 
dison Eoad. She rang the bell of a corner house; 
a maid opened the door, and Barbara said : 

1 'Mr. George Champneys?" 

' 'Yes, miss. " 

She found the comedian in a large studio at the 
back. He took her hand, and for a moment she 



46 HEARTBEAT 

could tell that, although her face appeared familiar, 
he could not remember who she was. She smiled at 
his indecision. Then suddenly he gave her hand a 
little jerk and exclaimed : 

"Ah! La Pauvre Innocente!" 

They indulged in no further formalities. Bar- 
bara felt curiously at home with this man. He was 
entirely different from the kind of people who con- 
stituted "the set" down at High Barrow. She felt 
she belonged to his world. He said: 

"Well, old girl, what can I do for you?" 

Barbara leant across the back of a grand piano 
and poured out her soul. 

"It's like this, Mr. Champneys. I want you to 
tell me how I can get training. You were awfully 
sweet to me when I sang, but I know quite well I 
really know nothing about the job. The point is, 
I've got to do it secret. Daddy objects to my sing- 
ing at all, let alone anything else, like dancing or 
acting. But it's no good; I know it's the thing I've 
got to do. I'm an awful fool, really. I know nothing; 
but I have got a bit of a voice, and I feel I 
could do well, the kind of thing you go in for. I'm 
living with two aunts at Westminster, and they 
mustn't know either. But I could always visit any- 
one in the daytime and possibly in the evening. 
I'm a splendid liar. I'm crazy to begin. Please, 
dear Mr. Champneys, you must help me." 

"Well, well, well, well!" 

George Champneys regarded her thoughtfully, 
then threw back his head and laughed 

"A splendid liar, eh? Oh, la pauvre innocent'e! I 
don't want to get into trouble with your father, 
though. He'd get an Act of Parliament passed and 



DIASTOLE 47 

have me executed in some special, protracted way. 
Oh, dear! this is awful!" 

" Don't let him worry you. I can manage him 
easily. I can pay fees, too. I've got nearly a hun- 
dred and fifty pounds in my own name." 

It appeared to George to be the funniest joke he 
had ever heard. He could not control his laughter. 
Dear me, what a child! But eventually, of course, 
he agreed. 

His friend, Birtles, the; composer, was; a very 
good teacher of singing. Madame Katie Shaw could 
teach her all there was to know about dancing. As 
a matter of fact, his own studio was nearly always 
in use for rehearsals and experiments. She could 
go there whenever she liked. He would help her in 
any way he could even at the risk of his life. 

XV. 

THEN followed the happiest period of Barbara's 
life. It is, perhaps, a regrettable fact that she 
thought very little about Billy, lying in a nursing- 
home in the country. Her brief, endearing notes 
occurred at longer intervals. She never wrote to 
Cicely or Jean at all. She became absorbed, elated, 
tremendously excited about herself. She met other 
girls at George's studio, brilliantly clever, fascin- 
ating girls. And Barbara copied their mode of 
dress, their mannerisms, their point of view. Oh, 
this was a life indeed ! She felt free, strong in her 
natural powers. As she said, she was a splendid 
liar. It was necessary to make up a rather elabor- 
ate lie, not only to cover her absences, but to ac- 
count for her long stay in London. The story she 



48 HEARTBEAT 

made up was that she was studying old lace. Fortu- 
unately, she had always been interested in lace, and 
she knew a little about it, and there was a magnifi- 
cent collection in South Kensington Museum. But 
the idea was prompted by the discovery on a book- 
stall in the Brompton Road of a sketch-book con- 
taining pencil sketches of lace obviously a stud- 
ent's work. Barbara bought the book and smug- 
gled it home. She tore out the pages and cleaned 
them up. Every few days she would produce one 
of these sheets and show it to her aunts, explaining 
how she had drawn it herself that afternoon. It 
was circumstancial evidence of a most convincing 
kind. Her aunts were greatly impressed by dear 
Barbara's industry and skill. Besides, it was such 
ladylike work, and so interesting and refined. Thom- 
as Powerscourt was also impressed, but the political 
situation was such that he could not devote much 
attention to his daughter. 

XVI. 

IN the early winter this question of a political situ- 
ation began to force itself on Barbara's mind. For 
one thing, contact with her professional friends had 
broadened her outlook; she even took a mild inter- 
est in politics itself. The government were having 
trouble with a Shipping Bill. It was an unpopular 
Bill, but one which would strengthen their hands in 
dealing with dockyard labour. Important questions 
of principle were at stake. Thomas Powerscourt 
had been the framer of that Bill, and he was con- 
sidered its protagonist. The trouble centered 
round a certain Clause 37. 



DIASTOLE 49 

On the surface the minister appeared as imper- 
turbable as ever, but Barbara knew that he was very 
worried. He slept badly and his digestion was all 
wrong. She could tell this by his eyes. Sometimes 
they motored down to High Barrow for the week- 
end, but Barbara always returned with him on the 
Monday. His remoteness seemed more pronounced 
that ever. He took little interest in her actions or 
appearance. He was strangely absent-minded and 
vague, and inclined to be querulous. Her subter- 
fuge about the lace studies seemed almost super- 
fluous. He asked no questions, and was completely 
indifferent whether she stayed in the country or 
came to town. This attitude naturally added fuel 
to the fires of her resentment. They were as the 
poles apart. She was beginning to fear him no 
longer. In a perverse mood she thought: "One of 
these days I'll give him the surprise of his life." 

A malicious joy crept through her veins. Flattery 
went to her head like wine. She had heard George 
Champneys praising her to a colleague. Madame 
Katie Shaw had declared her a natural dancer, one 
of the best pupils she had had for years. 

Meantime, the governing body perspired with 
the weight of its unfortunate Shipping Bill. A 
crisis occurred one afternoon in the aunts ' flat. Her 
father had come in to lunch. He tore at his food 
savagely swallowing great quantities of mayon- 
naise and game-pie. He looked like an old bear that 
had been worried by dogs. He was sullen and 
morose. The attitude of the aunts annoyed her 
more than anything. They spoke in hushed whis- 
pers, they hung upon his slightest) word, they 
soothed and coaxed and petted him. The position 



50 HEARTBEAT 

became unendurable. Barbara had been following 
the idea of the Bill as well as she could, and she felt 
convinced that her father's principles were wrong. 
Her sympathies were naturally with the dock-peo- 
ple and she felt their case was being side-tracked. 
Without any preliminary warning she suddenly 
launched a criticism of his pet Clause 37. What she 
said was neither clever nor penetrating but it clear- 
ly showed that she knew something about it. 

It was an awful moment. Her Aunt Laura ex- 
claimed : 

' ' Really Barbara dear ! ' ' 

She had expected that her father would regard 
her with his usual sleepy indifference and not deign 
to reply but to her surprise his eyes glowed with 
malevolence. He spluttered over his food, and sud- 
denly barked at her : 

" Leave the room!" 

The tactics were unfortunate on both sides. A 
few months ago she would have slunk away, gone 
to her bedroom and wept. But on this occasion she 
did certainly leave the room she had finished her 
lunch. She stood up, folded, her napkin, walked 
quietly out. She crossed the passage and entered 
the drawing-room opposite. There, there was an 
old upright piano. She sat down and opened the 
lid. She ran her fingers lightly over the keys, and 
then began to sing "La Dame Mariee a un Pucwt." 

She had completed two verses quite successfully 
when she heard the door open and the heavy stamp 
of her father's feet. His hand came down heavily 
on her right fore-arm. He pulled her from the 
stool. 



DIASTOLE 51 

"What is this? How is it you sing and play 
against my instructions'?" 

Barbara broke away from him, and exclaimed de- 
fiantly : 

"Why won't you let me sing and play? What is 
your reason?" 

"You've done it; you've been working at it be- 
hind my back ! ' ' 

"Why shouldn't I?" 

The aunts were already in the room, hovering 
agitatedly like birds whose nest has been disturbed. 
Suddenly he put his hand up to his head and com- 
plained of dizziness. They led him to the bedroom 
and he lay down. The telephone rang. The Prime 
Minister's secretary was wanting to know if he 
could be at a committee-room at four o'clock. 

"Yes, yes!" he shouted from the bedroom. 

But he never got to the House at four o'clock. He 
fell into a kind of coma, and complained of pains 
around the heart. A grey-bearded doctor arrived 
shook his head prescribed physic, and a complete 
rest. 

"He's very ill," he said sternly to Barbara, as 
though aware of her responsibility in the matter. 

XVII. 

IN the days that followed the flat became a hive 
of fevered activities. Various important person- 
ages called. Telegrams and despatches accumu- 
lated in the hall. The telephone was never silent. 
It became evident that the Ship of State or per- 
haps it was only the crew was heading towards its 
or their doom. Barbara could not help being 



52 HEARTBEAT 

impressed by these outward manifestations of her 
father's importance, neither could she quite under- 
stand her own indifference to his welfare. When 
her Aunt Jenny had said : 

"Your behaviour, Barbara, has made your father 
very ill." 

She had replied: 
"Perhaps it was the game-pie. " 
Later in the day Aunt Laura had said: 
"Of course, Barbara, we cannot expect you to 
leave while your dear father is so ill. You will re- 
main to help to nurse him. But Jenny and I both 
feel that when he is well again it would be better 
for you to return to the country. We were both 
exceedingly surprised that you should have used 
our flat in this way taking secret lessons in sing- 
ing and playing, against your father's expressed 
wishes." 

To this she had replied : 

"All right, Aunt. We'll talk about it later on." 
She began to take an avid interest in the news- 
papers. Far from subsiding, the excitement over 
the political situation was becoming more intense. 
As is so often the case, there was more behind the 
Government Bill than appeared on the surface. It 
also became evident that some of the members and 
newspapers those in opposition to her father's 
party were hinting that Thomas Powerscourt's 
illness was assumed. They did not believe in it, or 
him. He was afraid to face the criticism of his 
precious Clause 37. The fight went on for days. 
Mr. Bream, the Under-Secretary of State, was 
howled down. Unpleasant things were hurled 
across the floor of the House. On the third day, 



DIASTOLE 53 

when Mr. Bream was trying to speak, a small body 
of members kept up a kind of chant : 
"Sit down, Bream. We want Powerscourt. " 

XVIII. 

IN order to give him as much air as possible, some 
of the furniture had been moved out of his bed- 
room. Among other things a small chest and a 
few boxes were placed in Barbara's room. On that 
night when Mr. Bream had been howled down for 
the second time, the Prime Minister had called late 
and had an interview with her father. The excite- 
ment in the little flat had been intense. The aunts 
were dreading that their incomparable brother 
would be persuaded to get up and go down to the 
House, whatever condition he was in. Specialists 
had been called in to endorse the verdict of the other 
doctors. Barbara could not sleep. She never slept 
very well in Westminster. The night seemed weighted 
with congested lives. It's all struggle, and 
struggle, and struggle . . . even in their 
sleep the struggle goes on. The struggle for air, 
food, wealth, love, power. How insignificant we 
are! Whether we gain or lose in the struggle, we 
pass away. Others come, fight for the same things. 
Do things just exist to be fought for? A hundred 
years ago different people were sleeping in these 
same dark houses and struggling for these identical 
things. How queer that was! The things remain 
to be struggled for, but the people pass on. She 
peered out of the window and saw the cupola of 
Westminster Cathedral looking as old and myster- 
ious in the darkness as the religion which gave it 



54 HEARTBEAT 

birth. And yet the Cathedral was almost new.. So 
some things pass away, too buildings, and power, 
and wealth. What was she thinking of? What is 
it that remains? The idea? The spirit? But even 
before the idea of the Cathedral there were other 
ideas. Christianity was not so very old. There had 
been hundreds of religions before Christianity, 
hundreds of civilisations before this, hundreds of 
dead worlds swinging in the sky. Nothing remain- 
ed then : neither air, nor food, nor wealth, nor love, 
nor power. . . . She shivered and turned on 
the light. 

"I want something frightfully, and I don't know 
what it is," she thought. 

She took up a book and began to read, but her 
eyes were tired. She examined the old chest of 
her father's. It was stuffed with papers and letters 
and odds and ends. "I've no right to probe into 
his papers," she said to herself, but she continued 
to do so. At the very bottom of the chest she came 
across an old play-bill. It was very crinkled and 
torn. It was dated October 24th, but there was no 
year mentioned. It looked very, very old, so she 
gazed idly at the announcement. It appeared to be 
of some sort of vaudeville entertainment at the 
Royal Theatre, Croydon. There was a sketch call- 
ed "Mr. Ingles Takes the Town." A famous clown 
was starred the Great Hannifan. Then she came 
across an announcement which caused her heart to 
flutter. "Miss Kitty O'Bane, the comedy star from 
London, in song and dance." 

Kitty O'Bane! A strange thrill went through her 
being. It was almost as though the old play-bill 
were an answer to her doubts . . . nothing 



DIASTOLE 55 

remains, then? She found herself sobbing as she 
turned it over reverentially. Something remains 
. mother, dear! 

She searched the chest again more eagerly. In 
a corner where the play-bill had lain was a packet 
of letters. The ink had faded and the writing was 
not very legible. It was what they would call an 
uneducated person's writing. 

"0 God! I have no right to read these letters." 

Her heart was beating rapidly. She felt she must 
read just a few words, a sentence or two. It would 
mean so much to her. It was the thing she had been 
wanting so much. She peeped into the envelopes 
without taking the letters out. Endearing terms 
and disjointed sentences jumbled before her tear- 
besmirched vision. "Your loving Kitty." "My 
beloved Tom, don't be unkind to me of course I 
am bound to do as you wish. You led me to think 
it would be otherwise. . . ." "Oh, how lovely 
it was last night. It seemed cruel you had to go. 
. " " Tommy dear, what are we going to do ? " 
"We travelled all night by coach to Edinburgh. I 
looked up at the stars and thought of you. Your 
little Kitten was very lonely. 0, send me! some 
message." 

No, no; she couldn't go on. It wasn't fair. What- 
ever he had done, whatever had happened between 
those two, the letters were sacred to them. Even 
she the child of that union had no right to in- 
trude. 

She put them back and turned out the light. One 
fact impressed itself upon her disordered mentality. 
Her father had kept the letters. Whether he was 
right or wrong, whether he had behaved badly or 



56 HEARTBEAT 

well, he had kept her mother's letters all these 
years. 

XIX. 

To Barbara the day that followed was a phantas- 
magoria, as, indeed, it was to many other people 
in England. It was November, overcast and cold; 
a turgid wind moved the fog and heavy moisture 
up and down the streets as a policeman will move 
an ugly tramp. In after years she tried to piece 
together the emotions and experiences of that day, 
but in vain. She could never be certain as to what 
she had observed and what she had imagined; as to 
what part in the story she had taken herself and 
what part she had pieced together from the records 
of others. She observed the events of that day, a 
goddess suspending judgment; strangely alert to 
the approach of impending tragedy she felt no great 
desire to avert. What must be, must be. She shrug- 
ged her shoulders and prepared to defend her own 
interests. 

The morning papers reflected the cumulative 
effect of political pressure. The public was in an 
ugly mood. " The issues involved were too obscure 
to be closely followed by the layman, but he was 
angry with "the law's delay, the insolence of of- 
fice." What he wanted was a man, someone to 
point the way and lead him. In such a mood vast 
bodies of people will swing from one side to the 
other, like swallows maneuvering in the sky. In 
politics it is the leader's business to anticipate. He 
pretends to create, but in effect he only interprets. 

Observing this larger drama through the reflec- 
tion of her own, Barbara thought : 



DIASTOLE 57 

1 'Is he thinking of the people or of himself? Is 
he a vast abstraction existing for the public good? 
Or is he a man with follies and tenderness? Why 
does he live at all? Why don't I know him?" 

She sat at her window looking into the dim 
streets. 

The hungry clamour of public importunity began. 

"If it were not so very urgent, so very, very im- 
portant " A tall, fair young secretary in the 

hall, the younger son of a duke, bowing and apolo- 
gising. Mr. Bream again: "Just one word." An- 
other specialist. 0, God! that telephone! The 
morning was hustled away. At one o'clock the doc- 
tor returned, accompanied by a man with electric 
batteries. 

"I know what that means. He's going down to 
the House. It will kill him." 

The aunts were scared, but slightly flushed with 
the importance of the occasion. Barbara went out 
for a walk. "No 'old lace' to-day for me," she 
thought ironically. She pushed her way through 
the drifting fog. People's faces looked pink, ra- 
ther jolly. people, people, how lovely you are! 
The walk invigorated her. In the years to come 
she would meet all sorts of people. What people? 
Who would come out of the fog to be her friend? 
How queer it seemed to think that at that moment, 
walking about the world, were people who would be 
very important to her . . . perhaps a lover. 
Perhaps at that identical moment he was walking 
down the next street, quite unconscious of the hap- 
piness she meant to bring him. joy! She sang 
quietly to herself as she passed the railings of Green 
Park. 



58 HEARTBEAT 

XX. 

IT was half-past three when she got back to the 
flat. A carriage was drawn up outside. Two men 
in bowler hats were idling about. Just as she was 
approaching they pulled themselves up and looked 
up the steps towards the entrance. Barbara follow- 
ed their gaze and her eyes beheld a strange sight. 
At the top of the steps, and just about to descend, 
stood her father. He was all swathed up in ulsters, 
and shawls, and on his head was perched an ancient 
top-hat. He looked enormous. On either side of 
him, and supporting him, were two other men, one 
of whom she recognised as Sir John Diehl, Secre- 
tary for Home Affairs. The cortege slowly descend- 
ed, step by step. When they had reached the last 
step but one Barbara advanced and said timidly: 
"Do you think you ought to go, Daddy?" 
The utter banality indeed futility of her ap- 
peal struck her before the words were out of her 
mouth. It was like the mouse saying to the moun- 
tain: 

"Do you think you ought to be here?" 
She felt utterly insignificant. He did not look 
at her. She could read the restless concentration 
in his eyes. Surrounded by his supporters, he 
seemed to exude an aura of abstract energy. It 
was as though she were trying to set the puny in- 
fluence of her personal claims against that of vast 
blocks of interests. None of the politicians took the 
slightest notice of her. They were feverishly pilot- 
ing the vehicle of their herd instincts to the place 
where it would operate most advantageously. No- 
thing else counted. One of the horses stamped im- 



DIASTOLE 59 

patiently. The men in the bowler hats were open- 
ing and shutting doors. She leant against the rail- 
ing. The carriage vanished into the fog. 

She stared after it for some minutes and said 
quite loudly : 

1 'Oh, all right!" 

The inanity of this remark startled her to the 
truth of her position. She went upstairs and talked 
quite rationally to the aunts about domestic ar- 
rangements. The afternoon dragged on. They had 
tea, and she listened to Aunt Jenny tell a long 
story about a series of illnesses that had occurred 
to a family that Barbara had never heard of. Lights 
flickered green in the streets below. It was just 
after six o'clock that Aunty Laura came into the 
room and said : 

"Oh, those awful newsboys! They're calling out 
something at the back. Murder, I think." 

Barbara walked quietly out and opened a win- 
dow on the staircase. 

"Oh, don't do that, my dear," whined Aunt 
Laura. "You make such a draught." 

Barbara did not answer. She shut the window 
and came back into the room. Then she walked to 
the other window and looked down into the street. 
Suddenly she said in a perfectly rigid voice : 

"Do you know what they are calling out!" 

"What, my dear?" 

"Daddy's dead. He dropped down dead in the 
House." 

XXI. 

IT was possibly a morbid craving which prompted 
her in after-years to reconstruct that scene in the 



60 HEARTBEAT 

House again and again. The enveloping grip 
which her father had upon her the whole of her 
life carried her with him into those last fateful 
periods. And yet, vivid as the scene appeared, the 
moral repercussion impressed her more, the curious 
shifting of values. Dignified and venerable strangers 
pressed her hand in profound sympathy. The 
world was suddenly very kind. All the venom dis- 
appeared from the newspapers. The old Shipping 
Bill appeared no longer a matter of controversy. 
Whereas before it had been the nerve-centre of 
conflicting passions, it now appeared an obsolete 
pound of parchment. A very famous Minister 
stood up in the House and solemnly declared: 

"We may truly say of Thomas Power scourt that 
he gave his life for his country.*' 

Possibly. It certainly killed him, going down to 
the House that day; but little sardonic thoughts 
played around the fringe of her meditations. If he 
hadn't been so fond of game-pie, for instance, he 
might still be alive. If she hadn't sung "La Dome 
Mariee a un Puant" but why shouldn't she sing? 
What was this tyranny he dared to hold above her? 
What do these people know of the character of their 
gods? They are always seeking the same thing a 
drama, a story. They must see life in terms of 
heroism and action; it must be an epic of triumph 
or failure. 

The closing episode was dramatic enough as 
far as that went. The House seething with excite- 
ment, the imposing factions conscious of impend- 
ing crisis, but never deserted by the outward flour- 
ish of ragging schoolboyishness, uncomplimentary 
epithets being flung across the floor, messengers 



DIASTOLE 61 

coming and going, party Whips feverishly rallying 
their flocks, the Government idols being knocked 
over like ninepins; and suddenly Cheyne-Garstin 
upon his feet. 

Everyone knew Cheyne-Garstin, that formidable 
Celtic-looking Yorkshireman. He was the bitter- 
est opponent of the Government, a brilliant dialec- 
tician, a dour fighter. He waved a sheaf of notes, 
and his followers roared hoarsely. In his rich deep 
burr he began an ironic survey of the whole Gov- 
ernment attitude during the progress of the Bill. 
Then passion began to creep into his voice, and with 
power and closely-reasoned logic he concentrated 
on the pretensions of Clause 37. He carried the 
House with him; even the Government supporters 
were looking uncertain and slightly moved. It was 
the moment when the swallows would swing in their 
flight. He tore Clause 37 to pieces by moving an 
amendment which would leave it unrecognisable. 
He sat down amidst ringing cheers from his side 
of the House and cries of ' ' 'Vide ! Vide ! ' ' 

There was a restless movement of despair around 
the figure of Mr. Bream. What were the Govern- 
ment going to do! What was the Speaker whisper- 
ing about? Followed a rowdy interval of nervous 
suspense, when suddenly from behind the Speaker's 
chair emerged the vast, muffled form of old Tom 
Powerscourt, the centre of a small supporting cor- 
tege. When the members recognised him a fierce 
exultant shout went up. All people love a drama, 
and most people love a fight here were the ele- 
ments of both. The Government party roared them- 
selves hoarse, and the Opposition were equally as 
excited. One schoolboy of sixty called out: 



62 HEARTBEAT 

"Prop him up and let's shy at him." 
There was a universal cry of ' * Powerscourt ! 
Powerscourt ! ' ' 

They say he gave no evidence of any conscious- 
ness of the peculiarly dramatic mise-en-scene in 
which he found himself the principal actor. He 
stood by the table, stonily regarding the Speaker. 
When he spoke his voice was cold, passionless, mat- 
ter-of-fact. He spoke rather more quickly than he 
was accustomed to, as though anxious to gain his 
point within a given time. He simply said: 

"The honourable member for West Bordesly 
has miscalculated the economic eff ect of his amend- 
ment to Clause 37. The figures he quotes with re- 
gard to the sliding-scale of subsidies were founded 
upon the original estimate made by Lord St. Gyste, 
and not upon those in the White Paper issued by 
the Board of Trade last March. . . . " 

He stopped and fumbled with documents, adjust- 
ed his horn spectacles very slowly, then cleared his 
throat and went on : 

"I shall endeavour to put before you the deliber- 
ate social and economic effects of these two con- 
crete propositions. If the honourable member for 
West Bordesly can persuade me that the effect of 
his proposition will be more beneficial to the com- 
munity at large, then I shall be happy to accept the 
amendment and the Government will accept the 
consequences. " 

He paused a long time, and then one of his col- 
leagues whispered to him He bent down and lis- 
tened intently, and then stared abstractedly at his 
papers, as though weighing the value of the remark. 
At last he continued : 



DIASTOLE 63 

"It is only too apparent that a principle which 
may have everything to recommend it in theory 
may, when passed through the mills of practice, not 
only not be an excellent thing, but may even be sub- 
versive of the very germ of that principle itself. 
Figures are facts; the friction of humanity is a 
fact; and in determining these issues experience 
must be our lodestar. The Government do not in- 
tend to lose their grip " 

It was at this point that another elderly school- 
boy called out : 

"Limpets!" 

The affect of this ridiculous interruption was 
startling. The big man looked at the interrupter 
pathetically. It was obvious that his concentra- 
tion had gone. Limpets ! He appeared to be turn- 
ing the word over in his mind and considering it. 
Limpets! What is a limpet? Was he a limpet? 
Were the Government really limpets? Was all 
mankind limpets, creatures blindly clinging to the 
rock of their desires? He passed his hand over 
the back of his skull and mumbled: 

"I shall endeavor to prove 

But no; he was not destined to prove anything. 
Perhaps we none of us ever do. The papers shook 
in his hand, and he kept on turning them over help- 
lessly. His lips moved without any sound coming. 
He glanced round the House, a dumb appeal and 
fear gleaming in his eyes. He probably knew then, 
but he hunched his shoulders together, as though 
prepared to make a last effort. He groped for his 
coloured handkerchief and could not find it. The 
incident annoyed him exceedingly. He was per- 
spiring, and he wanted to wipe his brow. He did 



6 4 HEARTBEAT 

so with his bare hand. Then he; glanced at the 
mace. The object seemed to fascinate him. 
was obviously immersed in considering what a 
mace was, why it was there, what purpose it served. 
Very interesting thing, a mace . . . quite 
historical, almost a limpet. 

Quite suddenly, without any explanation, he be- 
gan to walk out of the House. His step seemed 
firm, as though he had a definite mission perhaps 
he was going to get his coloured handkerchief? He 
had not gone ten paces, however, when he stopped 
and sank upon his knees. Two members sprang 
forward to catch him, but he crashed heavily onto 
his face. They picked him up and carried him out ; 
but he died in the lobby within ten minutes, with- 
out regaining consciousness. 

xxn. 

ON a dreary December morning Barbara found 
herself seated in Lawyer Bloor's office in Old 
Burlington Street. She was fully conscious not 
only of the perfection of her toilette, but of the 
effect it was having on the three old gentlemen in 
the room. When a woman is among enemies, or 
when she has to grope with alien difficulties, it is 
an enormous spur to her confidence to know that 
she is looking her best. While drawers were being 
unlocked and papers rumpled she took stock of her 
setting and of the other occupants of the room. It 
was a little difficult to do this, as the room was 
nearly dark, and she occupied the swivel-chair fac- 
ing the light, whilst the three old men were on the 
other side of the table, with their backs to the light; 



DIASTOLE 65 

indeed, one of them was sitting in the angle of the 
fireplace. She knew who he was. He was old Sir 
Anthony Gyves. He had retired from the law, but 
Mr. Bloor, the principal lawyer for the trustees, 
explained that Sir Anthony had been kind enough 
to attend, as his presence was necessary for the 
business affecting the transference of certain title- 
deeds. He had been Thomas Powerscourt's lawyer 
in the old days. 

The other man was Mr. Bloor 's head clerk. 

"I don't mind you," thought Barbara, observ- 
ing the old clerk rather feebly spreading out parch- 
ments before his chief. "I don't think Mr. Bloor 's 
bad, but I simply hate that old man in the chimney- 
corner." She knew that his eyes were fixed upon 
her greedily, and he seemed to be maliciously en- 
joying himself. He was very, very old, a little 
wheezy, and at the slightest excuse he broke into 
a shrill "He, he, he !" at the same time bending for- 
ward and massaging his kneecaps, 

Mr. Bloor was studiously polite, but a little jaded 
and impatient. He seemed to think that the 
whole thing was an unnecessary waste of time, and 
if Barbara hadn't looked very pretty, he wouldn't 
have troubled to attend. He looked up at her once 
and remarked : 

"You were indisposed and unable to attend the 
reading of your father's will?" 

"Yes." 

He obviously did not believe her answer, but he 
said not unkindly : 

"Would you like me to read it to you now!" 

"It doesn't matter." 

The fact that her father had made a will did not 



66 HEARTBEAT 

impress her greatly. She knew that he was a very 
wealthy man, and that she was his only child. He 
would naturally leave most of his money to her. The 
aunts would probably get some of it, but well, she 
was not unmindful now of the power of money. She 
had seen something of the great world. One had to 
have money, crowds of money, to satisfy one's am- 
bitions. She had sometimes lain awake at night 
and thought of all the things she meant to do. Free- 
dom and power, running theatres, helping people, 
wearing lovely frocks, travelling. There would be 
no one now to check her activities. Oh, glorious 
freedom! Even at that moment little visions of the 
days to come were dancing before her eyes. It was 
the voice of old Sir Anthony which broke across 
these dreams. 

' 'She doesn't want to hear all that legal stuff, 
Bloor. He, he he ! Bead out to the girl what affects 
her." 

Mr. Bloor cleared his throat. "I think I ought 
to tell you, Miss Powerscourt, that your father made 
a new will shortly before his death. Some of the 
hospitals and the Law Clerks' Orphanage benefit 
considerably. Um er the value of his estate was 
assessed at 421,000." 

What was this all about? Hospitals and Law 
Clerks' Orphanage? What right had her father to 
give her money away like that? A cold sense of 
fear crept around her heart. A new will just be- 
fore his death? Ah! was that because of that 
song? She could bear the suspense no longer. She 
snapped out: 

"Well, what did he leave me?" 

"He, he, he! That's right, Miss Powerscourt. 



DIASTOLE 67 

Wake these old lawyer-chaps up. Tell the girl 
what she's come to hear, Bloor, He, he, he!" 

"Under the terms of your father's will, Miss 
Powerscourt, the trustees are empowered to pay 
you interest on certain specific securities. Where 
is that list, Mr. Green? Ah, yes; here we are. The 
interest from these securities will amount approxi- 
mately to four hundred pounds a year, less certain 
legal dues. We shall require your signature on 
several of these papers." 

Four hundred a year ! And her father left 421,- 
000. What did it mean? Why had he treated her 
like this? It couldn't be only just because of that 
song. There was something else, something deeper, 
more vicious at the back of it all. She felt the tears 
swelling in her eyes. She couldn't get her voice. 
Suddenly the old man in the corner lashed the air 
with another "He, he, he!" The sound steadied 
her like the whip of conflict. She was alone against 
these old men. She drew within herself and the 
lines around her mouth hardened. She stared at 
Mr. Bloor and said deliberately: 

' ' Can you tell me how this is ? " 

"Er I beg your pardon? How what is, Miss 
er ?" 

"How it is that my father, who was such a very 
rich man, should leave me, his only child, so little ? ' ' 

Lawyer Bloor sniffed and looked a little uncom- 
fortable. It was his business to interpret and ad- 
minister the law, not to indulge in emotional specu- 
lations. There was always a danger of losing one's 
dignity, of committing oneself. He was not pre- 
pared for such a leading question; neither was he 
prepared for the incident which followed. Barbara 



68 HEARTBEAT 

was suddenly upon her feet, her eyes blazing with 
anger. She shook her fist at the room. Her voice 
was shrill and menacing. 

"If anyone knows, you old men do. Come now, I 
want to know what it was about my mother/' 

Lawyer Bloor looked supplicatingly at Sir An- 
thony. The clerk lowered his eyes and coughed 
nervously. Sir Anthony looked at them all, and 
then hissed an almost inaudible "He, he, he!" up 
the chimney. Barbara held the floor. 

"Why did he never speak to me of Mother? Why 
did my aunts freeze up when I mentioned her? Why 
was there no portrait or memento of her in the 
house? Why did he forbid me to learn music or 
acting or dancing? Mother was an actress, I know. 
What was wrong with that? What did she do to 
him!" 

At last Mr. Bloor found the power of reply. He 
was inwardly ruffled, but the dignity of the law 
must be upheld. 

"If you must know, Miss Powerscourt, your 
father did not consider that your Mother acted well 
by him. He treated her with every kindness and 
consideration, and she did not reward his gen- 
erosity " 

"What's that? Generosity! Isn't a man usually 
supposed to treat his wife with kindness and con- 
sideration? What do you mean by reward? What 
reward?" 

In the dead stillness which followed, Barbara's 
mind was occupied with desperate imaginings of 
the past. The figure in the chimney-corner was 
watching her closely. Mr. Bloor suddenly snapped 
the table-drawer to; then, leaning forward, he said: 



DIASTOLE 69 

"In order to elucidate what must appear to you 
certain dubious aspects of the case, I may as well 
be perfectly candid, Miss Powerscourt. Your father 
and mother were never married." 

She had felt this coming, but the shock was none 
the less unnerving. Nevertheless she would not be 
unnerved. She had got to cope with these old men. 
Her father and mother were never married! In 
other words, her father had probably refused to 
marry her mother. He came of the governing class ; 
her mother was only a low-grade actress. Of course 
he wouldn't marry her. But he had been very kind, 
very generous. They meant that he had paid her 
well; given her everything except his good name, 
and she had treated him badly; she had not "re- 
warded his generosity." God! it was horrible. 
She struck the table with her left hand and hissed 
at him : 

"She couldn't have treated him badly if he didn't 
marry her." 

No one replied to this. Man's actions are con- 
trolled by codes, some acknowledged, some only 
silently implied. Barbara was stung by a sullen 
sense of injustice. "I was part of the price," she 
thought. "He looked after me, fed and clothed me, 
tried to make me a lady. Oh, the generous gentle- 
man!" 

There crept into her face an expression of ugly 
hatred, into her voice that hard quality which the 
world calls "common." She raged at them: 

"How could she have wronged him, you damned 
old men? You make the laws. You look after each 
other. A girl has to look after herself. My father 
was a cad!" 



70 HEARTBEAT 

There followed a dreary "He, he, he!" from the 
chimney corner; then the icy percussion of Mr. 
Bloor's voice: 

"We are not here to argue about these things, 
Miss er Powerscourt. Your father was a great 
and distinguished man." 

"Great and distinguished, eh? Yes, but you 
can't undo the evil a man does by burying him in 
Westminister Abbey." 

She picked up her muff and tugged savagely at 
her furs. 

"I'm going. You can keep your filthy money. 
Give it to the legal orphans " 

"Where are you going?" 

"I'm going on the road, like my Mother did be- 
fore me. I know I can get work. Maybe I'll do 
well and justify my Mother, after the vile way you 
all treated her. ' ' 

Lawyer Bloor looked perturbed. Any scene of 
human passion disgusted him. He tapped with a 
pencil upon the table. He fidgeted and began to 
talk, but he could not marshal his phrases into any 
definite coherence. 

"You must understand you wished us to be 
candid we are naturally distressed that you 
these er unpleasant revelations. You are, of 
course, entitled to act as you like in the matter. 
Our business is merely to administer the law. I 
would advise you you are overwrought " 

Barbara had reached the door, and her hand was 
on the handle. In another moment she would have 
gone, but just as she was about to open it, the shrill, 
cruel laughter of old Sir Anthony again broke out. 
The sound made her pause and look round. It was 



DIASTOLE 71 

as though in that instant she saw the face of that 
heartless world she was about to throw herself into. 
It wasn't always easy for a girl to look after her- 
self. She looked furtively out of the window and 
saw the dreary, grey street below. Suddenly she 
pulled off her glove and went back to the table. 

"I've changed my mind," she said. "I might as 
well have that money. After all, why shouldn't he 
pay?" 

When she had gone the hilarious screams of old 
Sir Anthony followed her to the pavement. The 
old boy was immensely ticked. He kept pinching 
his knees and nodding his hairless skull. 

"By God! Bloor, did you ever see such a little 
spitfire? He, he, he! The very spit and image of 
her mother. ' ' 

"I only remember her mother vaguely, Sir An- 
thony. What was she like?" 

"A damn fine woman, Bloor, a damn fine woman; 
the spit and image of this girl. He, he, he ! " 

"You knew her very well, I suppose?" 

"I ought to. He, he, he! She was my mistress 
for some time after Tom Powerscourt threw her 
over. A damn fine mistress, too. He, he, he!" 

"Really! You surprise me." 

"Ay, and this girl will be just the same the spit 
and image of her mother. The way she flew out! 
Did you notice it? Gad! If I was a young man 
again! He, he, he!" 



BOOK II. 
SYSTOLE 



BOOK II. SYSTOLE. 



BARBAEA let herself into the flat at Ashley Gardens 
and, with a theatrical flourish, threw her latchkey 
down on to the hall table. The black fur stole em- 
phasised the square set of her little chin. She held 
herself erect, and her eyes were bright with the 
light of battle. 

Without removing her hat or furs she walked 
into the drawing-room. The two aunts were busily 
engaged looking through some papers. Without 
looking up Aunt Laura murmured: 

"Well, dear?" 

Aunt Jenny, the tip of her small tongue moving 
up and down mechanically between her lips, was 
adding up a column of figures. Both the old ladies 
were in deepest morning. 

"I've put the latch-key down on the hall table," 
Barbara said abruptly. "I shan't be requiring it 
any more. ' ' 

Aunt Laura looked over the top of her spectacles 
uncomprehendingly. Why wouldn't Laura want a 
latch-key? Aunt Jenny exploded feebly: 

"There! If I start adding up from the top it 
comes to one thing. If I start adding up from the 
bottom it comes to another. What's that, dear?" 

"I shan't be wanting the latch-key any longer. 
I'm leaving you. I'm going to live with Isabel 
Weare." 

73 



74 HEARTBEAT 

It took some moments for the significance of this 
announcement to sink in, and when it did, Barbara 
was vaguely amused by the quality of its reception. 
Both of the old ladies protested weakly. Barbara 
mustn't do that. She was too young, too inexperi- 
enced. Was she unhappy? Had she thought of her 
dear father's wishes? Was there anything they 
could do? Would she prefer a different bedroom? 

" They 're enormously relieved," thought Bar- 
bara. "It's just what they wanted." 

"I've got a cab coming at four o'clock," she said. 
"Isabel Weare's flat is in Northumberland Street, 
Baker Street Saracen Mansions, number twenty- 
three in case you want me for anything." 

She pronounced the latter sentence in a patron- 
ising way. These two old women were nothing to 
her, and she was nothing to them. Both sides knew 
it, and so why pretend? She understood now why 
they had never been intimate with her, why she had 
never felt towards them any blood attraction. They 
had always deplored their dear and brilliant bro- 
ther's one great lack of judgment. They had toler- 
ated her for his sake. But now well, they would, 
if anything, be more Powerscourty than ever. They 
would be much richer. They would be able to 
what could they do with their money, after all? 
subscribe to more Bible Societies, patronise, pose, 
rustle about in rigid silks, and try to sustain the 
solemnity of the Powerscourt tradition. And she 
she would take up the stoiy from the point where 
her mother had dropped it. In any case she did not 
feel towards them any sense of gratitude or pity. 
The smouldering sense of outrage had reached a 



SYSTOLE 75 

crisis. She rejoiced that the issue had come out 
into the open. 

Old fools! She didn't want to be rude to them, 
they were too old and pitiable. To their protesta- 
tions she made no reply. She walked briskly into 
her own room and packed her belongings. At four 
o'clock the cab came. A man and one of the maids 
helped her down with her things. When all was 
ready, she pecked the two aunts lightly on the cheek 
and said "Good-bye." 

"You must come and see us as often as you can, 
Barbara," said Jenny. 

She said yes in a voice that meant no, looked in 
the mirror to arrange her hat, jerkily repeated, 
"Good-bye," and then walked out. 

When she had gone, Aunt Laura removed her 
spectacles and wiped them on a /faded coloured 
handkerchief. 

"She's the spit and image of her mother," she 
said dispassionately. 

"Let's hope she doesn't go the same way," an- 
swered Jenny. 

' ' Poor Tom. Eing the bell, dear ; we '11 have tea. ' ' 

n. 

ISABEL WEAKE was a girl Barbara had met at George 
Champneys' studio, and with whom she had formed 
that kind of adoring friendship which one finds 
only amongst women of the professional classes. 
She was eight years older than Barbara, a fairly 
accomplished singer and actress, with one of those 
pliable, sympathetic natures of which all the world 
takes advantage. She was tall and rather over-de- 



76 HEARTBEAT 

veloped, with a dreamy oval face also inclined to 
puffiness, masses of light-brown hair, which was al- 
ways breaking free. She had those appealing, 
slightly persecuted eyes which a woman of that kind 
often has when experience has made her realise that 
sex is an ever-present source of danger. She had 
been made love to so persistently, so dangerously, 
so cunningly, that she had come to live in a buffer 
state of suspicion. The eyes seemed to say: "I 
can't help being like this. I love everyone. What 
is it you really want with me?" 

Men instinctively made love to her, and she had 
no faculty for being rude, or cruel, or unkind. With 
women, too, she was extremely popular. Her sim- 
plicity, good-nature and kindness of heart were ir- 
resistible. She was also absentminded and always 
getting into scrapes. They called her "Old Is." She 
was always losing her purse, or her umbrella, for- 
getting to turn up for appointments, being late at 
rehearsals, completely misinterpreting meanings; 
and yet everybody forgave her. Dear "Old Is" 
could do no wrong. It was only when she was ac- 
tually performing that she appeared to be entirely 
compos mentis, and then she displayed a quite sur- 
prising vivacity, and her light mezzo-soprano voice 
had a rich, moving quality. It is probable that, had 
it not been for her absent-mindedness and her per- 
functory treatment of managers and producers, she 
would have climbed higher, instead of interminably 
walking on or touring with musical comedy parties 
and pierrot troupes. 

The first time Barbara met her, and heard her 
speak, and saw her move, she was consumed with 
a great desire to hug and kiss her. She gradually 



SYSTOLE 77 

came to adore her like a lover. She listened for 
her footsteps, hung upon her words, devoured her 
with her eyes. Every little thing about Isabel was 
wonderful her clothes, her shoes, even the scent 
she used rather lavishly. Barbara copied her as 
unobtrusively as possible. She dreamed of being 
like Isabel. She dreamed of living with Isabel 
having her as her dearest friend for ever, and ever, 
and ever. All the other friendships of her life paled 
into insignificance. Cicely and Jean appeared 
like dimly-remembered dolls, Billy Hamaton a dis- 
turbing image, a puppet recalling an experience of 
which she was a little ashamed poor Billy! Her 
father was a forbidding nightmare; all the rest 
were marionettes, no one mattered, nothing count- 
ed at all except Isabel Weare and herself. She 
stood out like a statute of Liberty welcoming Bar- 
bara to a new world. All its delights, achievements, 
romance, and mysteries were embodied in Isabel 
Weare. She did not talk of her love-affairs, but 
Barbara knew that they had been many, profound 
and bitter. She had tasted of the cup of life, and it 
had not poisoned the simplicity of her outlook. She 
was only a little more bewildered, more alert to 
danger, and more tolerant of the faults of others. 
It took Barbara a long time to establish any 
special possessive claims over Isabel. She was so 
kind and affectionate to everyone. At these mani- 
festations to others Barbara would be wildly jeal- 
ous. She hated these other girls who kissed "Old 
Is" and called her darling. She hated the men who 
flirted with her, held her hand an unnecessarily long 
time and called her "my dear." At such times she 
would sulk, drive her nails into her palms, and 
crave for violence and tears. 



78 HEARTBEAT 

Her insistence and her passion eventually carried 
the day. She hung round Isabel like a faithful little 
dog. She followed her about, waited on her, flatter- 
ed her, gave her little presents. But her position 
was not finally established till one evening when she 
followed Isabel to her flat and wept. She wept and 
wept and hugged her large mothering friend. Isabel 
was bewildered, and kept whispering : 

"What is it? What's the trouble, my darling 1" 

This occurred before her father's death, before 
she knew the truth of her own position. She had, 
indeed, no especial reason to weep. She just felt 
lonely, desperate, very much in love with Isabel, 
jealous, neglected, wanting sympathy, wanting to 
know things, shut off from life. The older woman 
comforted her in the best way she could. She un- 
derstood women better than men, and perhaps at 
some time she had passed through similar experi- 
ences. 

"There's nothing the matter I'm only just 
silly," was Barbara's constant explanation. So 
Isabel made some tea, and talked about Mr. Champ- 
neys, and Irene Frewin, and Lettice Strangeways, 
and religion, and love, and frocks. In half-an- 
hour's time Barbara was laughing and chatting 
volubly. 

It was a different Barbara who came to her and 
told her about her father's death and the truth 
about herself. There were no tears this time ; only 
a kind of ice-cold pugnacity, almost a sense of re- 
lief and freedom. 

"I want to get on," was the outcome of her com- 
plex confession. 

"I'm going to cut myself off from all these as- 



SYSTOLE 79 

sociations. The principal feeling I have, Isabel 
darling, is that I just feel sick. It's funny how any 
great emotion always affects my tummy first. I'm 
sure I should be sick on a honeymoon. ' ' 

Isabel thought the matter over for some mo- 
ments ; then she said : 

" Would you like to come and share my flat? if 
you'll promise not to be sick." 

Barbara stared at her friend with eyes that could 
not control their amazement and delight. Then she 
gurgled, "Oo ooh! you don't mean it, do you, 
Isabel?" 

Of course Isabel meant it. 

"Can I live on four hundred a year if I don't get 
any work to do?" 

Of course she could live on four hundred a year, 
and of course she would get work. Mr. Champneys 
thought a lot of her, and so did all the others. There 
would be no difficulty at all. They would keep a 
little maid, so that when one was on tour there 
would always be someone in the flat. Barbara could 
not believe her good fortune. She hugged and kiss- 
ed her new friend with such an excess of frenzy 
that she began to feel sick once more. 

"I must go for a long walk to calm down. I will 
come in on Thursday, darling." 

And so on that Thursday she gave up her latch- 
key to the aunts, and drove with all her property 
to Northumberland Street. 

m. 

ISABEL at that time had a small part in a musical 
comedy at Daly's. She was getting a fairly good 



80 HEARTBEAT 

salary, and the play had been running for six 
months and promised to run for years; conse- 
quently, with Barbara's four hundred a year the two 
girls were comparatively well off. 

"You're a lucky child," Isabel said. "There 
aren't many girls in our profession with four hun- 
dred a year to fall back on. There aren't many with 
anything at all. But you take my advice, dear, and 
keep it dark. They don't like it if they think you've 
got money. They look on you as an amateur, taking 
the bread out of working-girls' mouths." 

"If I had four thousand a year which I ought to 
I should still go on the stage, darling." 

"Well, you keep it dark, darling." 

The first person Barbara visited was naturally 
George Champneys, who was very interested and 
amused at the earnestness of her resolution. Most 
certainly he would do what he could. He had prom- 
ised, and he would stick to his promise. He would 
try to get her on in London as soon as possible. In 
the meantime she must get some hard, practical ex- 
perience. In a month's time he was sending a pier- 
rot troupe out on short runs, a week here and there, 
and then back, another week later on, and so on. 
would she care to be in it? The pay was negligible, 
but the experience would be good. 

Would she care to be in it! Barbara glowed 
with excitement. At the very first bound she was 
to become a professional actress, with a name and a 
salary, perhaps Press notices, and bouquets from 
unknown admirers. 

"What are you going to call yourself?" George 
remarked. "I don't think Barbara Powerscourt's 
very good too long. Besides " 



SYSTOLE 81 

"Exactly besides," quoth Barbara, "I want to 
drop the Powerscourt altogether." 

"Fancy that!" 

"Fancy what? Oh, Mr. Champneys, Fancy's a 
nice name." 

"Fancy's a very nice name. Now, what shall it 
be? Fancy what?" 

"No, not Fancy Watt." 

"I know." 

"What?" 

"Fancy Telling." 

"Oo oooh! Yes, that would be rather quaint, 
wouldn't it? Fancy Telling. I like it." 

"Fancy Telling tops the bill this week at The 
Grand, Croydon. Yes, that's very good. George, 
my boy, I congratulate you. Don't forget, Miss 
Telling, on the day of judgment, to let them know 
that it was I who invented your name." 

"Fancy telling!" 

"Come in on Monday, and I'll get you to sign 
a piece of paper, old girl. Carter is handling this 
company. I expect they'll pay you two pounds or 
two pounds ten a week. We'll push you on as fast 
as we can. ' ' 

He pressed her hand and patted her shoulders as 
he showed her out. 

And so Fancy returned to Northumberland Street 
in a wild state of excitement. The metamorphosis 
was complete. She had new friends, a new interest 
in life, a new job, and a new name." 

"You're a lucky little devil," Isabel remarked 
when she emerged from her friend's embrace. "I 
never had anyone to help me when I started not 
a friend or a bean. I used to traipse round calling 



82 HEARTBEAT 

on dirty, fat little agents, who used to insist on 
holding my hand all the time I talked. Some of 
them used to oh, they were swine!" 

4 'Oh, Isabel, how rotten! People don't do that 
sort of thing now, do they, darling?" 

"Oh no, my dear, only pretty frequently. It's 
lucky you've got me to. look after you, and that you 
struck George C. straight away. 

"He's a dear. I love him." 

"You've got a very passionate nature, Barbara. 
You must watch out that it doesn't get you into 
trouble. When you've had men try to maul you 
about as long as I have you'll quiet down. Let's 
have lunch; I'm hungry." 

Oh, those glorious days! all too short for the 
wonders and portents which crowded upon her. 
Everything was coloured by the glamour of dis- 
covery and anticipation. She thrilled at the vision 
of Isabel sitting up in bed, in a dressing-gown, 
drinking tea. Washing up the breakfast things, be- 
cause the maid had failed to turn up, was a positive 
ecstasy. Making toast, cleaning Isabel's shoes, 
ordering groceries, rearranging the sitting-room, 
mending some under-linen of Isabel's, darning her 
own stockings all these things were pleasures, of 
which she sometimes felt quite unworthy. And 
then the adventurous world outside. The busy 
streets brimming with life, the shops full of things 
she meant to buy one day lovely frocks and hats, 
old furniture, precious stones, jewels, vanity bags 
all for Isabel and herself. If only her father . . . 

Then, most important and thrilling of all, meet- 
ing with Mr. Carter, the producer. Rehearsing, 
really rehearsing a proper professional perform- 



SYSTOLE 83 

ance, glancing at the other girls and men; trying 
to appear as though used to it, every day picking 
up a little more of the slang of the profession, get- 
ting familiar with the terms which governed this 
delightful world afterwards the streets again, rich 
women in furs and motor-cars, jolly men walking 
furtively, looking at her inquiringly, poor old men 
playing hurdy-gurdies, giving them sixpences and 
shillings, the tears swelling to her eyes. Tea with 
Isabel, Isabel looking scrumptious, rather languid 
and cosy, in a bright jade-green kimono. Talk, de- 
lightful talk, all about people, and the profession, 
and the things that may happen to two girls with 
the world before them. The glow of sunset on the 
wet pavement below. Isabel's chop at six-thirty and 
a raw egg for Barbara. Then going down to the 
theatre with Isabel on a motor-bus, getting off at 
Piccadilly Circus and walking along to the stage- 
door at Daly's sometimes being smuggled in. Oh, 
that was joy indeed! The narrow stone staircase 
and passages, curious people in various stages of 
make-up. Small boys calling out; 

"Beginners, please!" 

Isabel's dressing-room, with two other real act- 
resses in it, the smell of grease-paint and powder, 
the bright glow of the mirrors. 

Then out in the street once more, the myriad col- 
oured lights and signs of Leicester Square, the en- 
veloping mystery of early darkness, with its pro- 
vocative, mysterious appeal. She would hurry back 
to the little flat then, rather scared, and eager for 
escape. The flat seemed melancholy without Isabel, 
so she would rush to the upright piano, and with 
puckered brows and intense concentration, practise 



84 HEARTBEAT 

the songs Mr. Carter had given her to sing for the 
tour. Then she would curl up in front of the fire 
and read, or stare at the embers and dream of the 
great and wonderful world awaiting her. It would 
be nearly twelve before Isabel came in. At the 
click of the door she would jump up, rush out and 
kiss her friend, take off her cloak, fetch her slippers 
and the tray of stout and sandwiches, ensconce her 
comfortably in the easy chair. Then she would 
brew herself some cocoa, kneel on the tuffet, ask for 
news, and hungrily worship her goddess. 

"The young man who marries you will have a 
hot time," said Isabel on one of these occasions. 

"I don't like men. I'm never going to marry," 
answered Barbara. 

"That's right, darling, don't you do it. Will you 
be an angel and go and fetch me a hanky from my 
room?" 

IV. -,, 

JUST before the tour started there was a disquiet- 
ing irruption in the flat. Isabel developed a persis- 
tent lover. He was a dark, heavily-built man, about 
forty years of age, and the owner of a successful 
business in Bloomsbury, concerned with trimmings, 
gimp, buttons and embroidery. He called at all 
kinds of inconvenient hours of the day, and began 
to see Isabel home at night. He spoke very little, 
and then in a soft mellow voice. Barbara suspected 
that he was less silent when she was not present. 
He had a way of staring at her with an expression 
of amused contempt thoughtfully tugging at his 
black moustache. His eyes seemed to say : 

"Can't you see, you little nuisance, that two is 
company, three's none?" 



SYSTOLE 85 

It is needless to say that Mr. Basil Cleethorpe 
for such was his name roused in Barbara's bosom 
feelings of violent jealousy. Before a week had 
passed she could have killed this man who had come 
between her and Isabel. At first she was polite to 
him, then curt, and then definitely rude. But she 
recognised in him one of the strong, silent species, 
or perhaps not strong and silent so much as thick- 
skinned and dull. He withstood her attacks with 
amused indifference. She did not interest him. His 
quarry was Isabel, and he would take infinite 
trouble to secure her company, and that alone. 

The alarming aspect of the case was that Isabel 
seemed not only to tolerate him but positively to 
like him. She went out to lunches and dinners with 
him, and left Barbara to shift for herself. And 
jealousy and suspicion gnawed at her vitals. Isabel 
didn't love her. Isabel had deceived her. What did 
she mean that time when she talked about being 
" mauled about by men?" How loathsome the whole 
thing was ! 

She would return from rehearsal and find Isabel 
and Basil awful name! sitting side by side on 
the Chesterfield in the firelight. Isabel would be 
just as affectionate to her, but she was tortured by 
the suspicion that her presence was unwelcome. 
Isabel took to being out more, and sometimes re- 
turning at an unearthly hour in the morning. This 
couldn't last; something would have to be done. 

She waited till three nights before the tour start- 
ed, and then she determined to have it out. She 
waited up for Isabel, who arrived home at a quar- 
ter past one. Then she followed her into the sitting- 
room and pulled her down on to the Chesterfield. 



86 HEARTBEAT 

"Where have you been, Isabel darling?'* 

Isabel yawned sleepily. 

"Been, my dear? Oh, I've been having supper 
with Basil." 

Barbara's breath came in little gasps. 

"Are you very fond of him, Isabel?" 

"B? Oh, yes, he's a nice boy." 

"Do you love him? Are you going to marry him? 
Are you going to leave me, Isabel?" 

The older woman held her away, and looked 
slightly bewildered. 

"Love him! Marry him! Oh, dear! what a queer 
child you are! Haven't you ever had a boy?" 

"No." 

"Well, you get one, my dear. They help to pass 
the time. You've only got to look after yourself, 
not lose your head, if you know what I mean. ' ' 

That phrase again "A girl has got to look after 
herself!" Isabel was still speaking in her cosy en- 
veloping voice. 

"I'm very, very fond of you, Fancy darling. Don't 
be silly all this talk about leaving you. There's 
one thing we must have clear, though. Living like 
this together, we must each be free to do what we 
like. I wouldn't be jealous of you, if you had a 
boy. It's natural." 

"You're really only playing with him, then?" 

"We each know what we're doing, darling. How 
did the rehearsal go to-day?" 

So that was it. On her pillow that night little 
Fancy Telling wept, almost wishing, for the first 
time since her new departure, that she was once 
more Barbara Powerscourt. 



SYSTOLE 87 

V. 

THE tour, which opened at Harrogate, was also 
rather in the nature of a disillusionment. In some 
respects it was almost a triumph. They played to 
good houses. The programme was a clever pro- 
duction, the joint work of George Champneys and 
Mr. Birtles. Her own part in it was by no means 
negligible, and she carried it through with consider- 
able success indeed, she was surprised how easily 
the whole thing came to her, and how the people ap- 
plauded her. But the company she found anything 
but companionable. The men were always making 
vulgar jokes and suggestive remarks, and she re- 
sented their over-familiarity. Between the shows 
their principal interests appeared to be horse rac- 
ing, cards and beer. The women erred by applaud- 
ing and approving the men's behaviour, and by be- 
ing jealous and catty to each other, and to Barbara. 
Mr. Carter, the principal, was far less vulgar than 
the other men, but he was inordinately vain, jeal- 
ous, and self-centred. On the stage he was an ex- 
cellent comedian, off it he was self-conscious and 
awkward. 

The only member of the company with whom Bar- 
bara struck up any kind of friendship was Angela 
Lupin, the accompanist, a solemn, sallow-faced girl, 
with short black hair, and no sense of humor. She 
had been a student at the Royal Academy of Music. 
She confessed to Barbara that the whole pierrot 
performance bored her to tears. She played the 
accompaniments because she had to earn money. 
Her career at the Academy had been cut short by 
the death of her father, a clever and thriftless 



88 HEARTBEAT 

journalist, who had left her mother and herself 
penniless. She was being paid two pounds a week, 
a goodly portion of which was regularly despatched 
to her mother. Barbara discovered that Angela 's 
meals consisted almost exclusively of tea and bread- 
and-butter. It was the first time in her life she had 
come up against real want, and the spectacle sick- 
ened and shook her. Poor sallow-faced child ! How 
unfair it all was ! With her four hundred a year and 
her own small salary, and no one else to spend it 
on, Barbara realised that she was an enormously 
wealthy woman. Henceforth she insisted on stand- 
ing Angela lunches and teas and dinners. She 
bought her fruit and eggs and bottles of stout. At 
the same time she followed IsabePs advice and kept 
quiet about her own private income. Sometimes she 
imagined that Angela regarded her suspiciously, but 
the child was too hungry to care. 

The party went on to Leeds, Huddersfield, Hull, 
and "Whitby. Added to the nervous discomforts of 
this first tour was the constant worry as to what 
was happening to Isabel. Barbara was always 
dreaming of the awful black Basil, grinning at her 
superciliously. He would be taking advantage of 
her absence. He would spend half the day in the 
flat, sitting on her chairs, using her things, perhaps 
resting on her bed! Oh, what could Isabel see in 
him? A boy, indeed! Perhaps at that very moment 
he was "mauling Isabel about!" 

Was it natural to have "boys" to be mauled 
about indiscriminately? A fierce resentment at the 
idea stirred within her. Was she different from 
those other girls? Certainly all the girls in this 
company seemed to be boy-mad. They chopped 



SYSTOLE 89 

and changed about, squabbled and flirted and made 
it up quite amicably over tankards of beer. She 
would never be able to do that. She didn't care for 
"boys" not in that sense. Of course there was 
that one wonderful person somewhere in the world; 
that would be quite different. A sudden fear seized 
her. Her mother ? Was she a woman who was boy- 
mad? Was her father one of her mother's "boys," 
and that was why he treated her like that? Oh, no, 
no she thought of those letters. They were not the 
letters of these fly-by-nights. Whatever the true 
circumstances of the story were, one fact stood out 
poignantly her mother had suffered. The capac- 
ity for suffering is one of the acid tests of charac- 
ter. It is only profound people who can suffer. 
Girls like Maisie Jewel, the leading comedienne, 
were capable of fits of the blues, of peevishness, 
jealousy, bad temper, but a little flattery or a pint 
of beer would wash it all away. They could not 
suffer. 

When the five-weeks' tour was over the company 
were to return to London, and they were not to go 
out again for another three weeks. Reacting from 
the disappointments of her first experience, Bar- 
bara determined to make the best of things. 

"I'm Fancy Telling, not Barbara Powerscourt, " 
she repeated to herself. "I'm going to get on. Mr. 
Champneys said it wouldn't be much of a show, but 
that it would be a good experience. I must work 
and study and find out things." 

At Leeds she had quite a personal success, one 
of her songs, "The Garden of Regrets," seeming to 
.be the most popular item on the programme. It 
was very much to her surprise, therefore, that on 



90 HEARTBEAT 

the last night Mr. Carter took her on one side, and 
said: 

"Oh, we're making a few changes at Hudders- 
field, Miss Telling. We've got some more comic 
stuff to work in. I'm afraid we shall have to cut 
out 'The Garden of Regrets'." 

For an instant she was about to protest violently. 
Then she reflected: "What does it matter? Carter's 
no one. I'm out for bigger game." 

She contented herself by remarking bitterly: 

"I suppose it did go rather well." 

And then she turned away and left him to ponder 
the insinuation at his leisure. The result made him 
her enemy, for the rest of the tour. 

VI. 

AT the end of five weeks the company returned to 
town, and Barbara to Northumberland Street. There 
she found that her worst suspicions were to be con- 
firmed. The black Basil was still much in evidence. 
On the other hand, she could not but be moved by 
the warmth of Isabel's reception. Isabel was gen- 
uinely pleased to see her. She hugged her and 
cross-examined her about every little detail of the 
tour. She was a dear old darling Isabel, too easy- 
going, almost incomprehensible. Barbara, like 
many young people with definite ambitions and in- 
definite ideals, was beginning to learn that one can- 
not interpret anyone else's visions through the light 
of one's own eyes. She had lain awake at night, 
pitying Isabel, dreaming all kinds of disturbing 
dreams about her, but when she once more was in 
heil society she -found her quite happy and un- 



SYSTOLE 91 

changed. She ;was certainly not being worried by 
anything. It comforted Barbara, therefore, to con- 
clude that Basil was only an interlude, in spite of his 
prehensile grip upon her friend's affections. 

The crust was already hardening. So long as 
Isabel loved her it was not her business to inter- 
fere with her sex adventures. She knew from what 
Isabel had told her that men were transitory expe- 
riences. She busied herself in the flat, revelling in 
the crumbs of Isabel's society which fell from the 
rich button-and-gimp man's table. After all, he was 
not there all day she had breakfast with Isabel, 
and all morning, and very often a good part of the 
afternoon ; and she could still sew and mend for Isa- 
bel, and write her letters and run her errands ; she 
could still hug her, and listen to her deep lazy voice 
talking familiarly about "May" May being no less 
a person than May Mendelssohn, the leading lady 
at Daly's. Isabel knew all these people, and always 
referred to them by their Christian names. It added 
a piquant thrill to their friendship. To think that 
she, Barbara no, Fancy Telling an ingenue of 
five weeks' experience, lived with a girl who re- 
ferred to ,May Mandelssohn as "May"! May, an 
almost inaccessible goddess, who drove to the theatre 
in a motor-car was always having her photo- 
graph in the illustrated papers, supped at the Savoy 
with the scions of the aristocracy, lived in a large 
house near the park, kept several servants of her 
own, had been married once, and had divorced her 
husband when she was twenty-two, and, above all, 
sang and danced and acted divinely. Would such 
a destiny ever be the lot of Fancy Telling? 
She tried to analyse this fate. She, too, passion- 



92 HEARTBEAT 

ately desired to see her photographs in the illus- 
trated papers, to drive to the theatre in a motor- 
car, to sup at the Savoy, to have, a house and serv- 
ants of her own; more especially did she passion- 
ately desire to sing, and dance, and act divinely. But 
she had no desire to marry and divorce ; she had no 
desire to be " mauled about by men." Her erotic 
impulses were at that time entirely unawakened. 

The day after her return she repaired to George 
Champneys', and gave him a voluble account of 
the tour, not excluding the incident about "The 
Garden of Regrets. ' ' 

The large man regarded her quizzically, and 
nodded his head. 

"I'm afraid Carter is like that, my dear. I'm 
sorry. I'll speak to him about it, but I can't insist. 
It's in our contract that he has complete control of 
the programme. Don't you worry. I'll soon have 
you in something better. How have you been?" 

"I wish he would take me seriously," thought 
Barbara. "He likes me, but he treats me like a 
kid." 

Champneys was certainly very paternal and kind, 
but he was a little preoccupied concerning a big new 
London production. He did treat her like a kid. 
But how else can one treat twenty-one? He himself 
was forty-five, at the very zenith of his fame, his 
palate a little jaded by the flavour of every human 
experience. He had met many young girls like Bar- 
bara, and he liked them and treated them all kindly. 
Bless their hearts ! He would like to give them all 
leads and big salaries, but even kindness of heart 
has its physical limitations. A secretary was fidg- 
eting with papers; a telephone bell went. 



SYSTOLE 93 

"Come and see me again soon, La pauvre inno- 
cente," he said genially. Barbara thanked him and 
went. When she got to the street a little lump 
came in her throat. 

"It's not going to be so darned easy," she thought. 
"I can't keep on worrying him." 

This intermittent tour of the Pierrot troupe con- 
tinued for eight months. It was a mixed experience. 
Mr. iCarter had his knife in her, and reduced her 
part in the performance till it became almost negli- 
gible. The other men tried the "mauling" process, 
but finding that she did not respond, they treated 
her with contempt. The other girls were jealous of 
her because they knew she had real ability, and 
also because it was known that she was a personal 
friend of the great George Champneys, and was not 
to be "given the bird." Angela Lupin left. She 
had been given the bird, because she had not a friend 
at court, and Mr. Carter wanted to work in a fat girl 
named Ruby Isaacs for some reason of his own. The 
tour was a series of disillusionments ; nevertheless 
Fancy Telling managed to survive it. Moreover, 
she did gain experience. She learnt to broaden her 
methods, to act with assurance, to come down slick 
on her cues, to force an encore if she wished to. 
She learnt to make points by giving just the right 
pause, to play to the back of the hall, to judge its 
acoustics and adapt her voice to its possibilities. 
She learnt to make up to the best advantage, to 
judge her distances accurately in dancing. She 
learnt to drink stout and to eat tripe. She gradually 
learnt how to manage "maulers" without eternally 
offending them. She gradually learnt how to flat- 
ter, and cajole, and humour her fellow-artists as 



94 HEARTBEAT 

well as the managers and people connected with the 
hall. During the last week of the tour she was more 
popular than she had been all through. Several 
members of the company were coming to the con- 
clusion that little Fancy Telling was not such a 
rotter after all. She did not mind this one way or 
another. She stuffed all this experience away into 
odd corners of her brain for future use. She had 
her eye on a larger canvas. 

The third time she returned to London, she found 
that the black Basil had been superseded by a youth 
named Walter Podmore, a rather vacuous fair young 
man who was forever chuckling over Isabel's irre- 
sistible charms. Her experience had fortified her 
against the shock of this development. So this was 
Isabel darling old Isabel, still loyal, affectionate, 
and adorable, still talking about "May," still hav- 
ing love-affairs and managing them adroitly. These 
were the people, and this was the life from which 
her mother sprang. She einvisaged her father's 
ponderous, judicial figure glowering above her, and 
her resentment quickened at the thought that he 
should have sat in judgment on it. 

vn. 

DURING the intervals of this tour she called on 
George Champneys three times, and on no occasion 
did she feel that she made much progress in his 
good graces. He was always the same, paternal, 
kindly, and mildly encouraging. At the end of her 
third visit she became haunted by a disturbing sus- 
picion. Of his sympathy and kindness of heart she 
had no doubt, but was it quite the same thing flat- 



SYSTOLE 95 

tering and encouraging the daughter of a famous 
and wealthy Chancellor as flattering and fulfilling 
promises to an impecunious and unknown actress? 
She tried to persuade herself that there was noth- 
ing in it, that George was quite sincere, that it was 
only natural that he should send her out on these 
miserable little tours to gain experience, but the 
canker of suspicion once being there developed and 
grew, and moreover bred other suspicions. Was it 
possible, for instance, that darling Isabel found her 
well, rather useful in the flat, with her assured 
income, and her ingenuity and anxiety to help her? 
Why was it that she had never had a line from 
Cicely or Jean since her father 's death, or even from 
the aunts? Did Billy Hamaton still love her? 
Should she sacrifice everything throw up the stage, 
seek him out, marry him, and nurse him to the end 
of her days? 

Her impulses swung hither and thither, but at the 
end of the tour they had solidified to the extent of 
a determination no to give in so soon. 

She became obsessed by another determination 
to break free from George Champneys. She would 
show him that she could get on by herself. Whether 
she expected that he would give her a leading part 
in town right off she could not say. She only felt 
that he was not treating her in quite the way he had 
led her to expect on that afternoon in the Strad- 
lings' drawing-room when she had sung "La 
Pauvre Innocente." Perhaps that day was charged 
with an indescribable glamour the kind of day that 
blinds one to the stern realities. On that day she 
had caused the destruction of her lover, and even 
that event did not really destroy the enchantment. 



96 HEARTBEAT 

Life was like that, a lot of drab monotony and dis- 
illusion, and then moments almost too wonderful to 
bear. Moments when one was up in the tree-tops 
and the earth did not exist. One lives on through 
the dreary business because something in one's heart 
tells one that such moments will occur again. Per- 
haps that is how the utterly destitute, the down- 
trodden, the unhealthy go on living they have that 
secret buried well away, a treasure that cannot be 
shared. Having once beheld "those trailing clouds 
of glory," the vision sustains us through eternity, 
and neither adversity, disilluson, nor even our own 
vicious habits can ever utterly abolish or destroy. 

She told Isabel of her determination, and that 
lady said : 

"Oh, my dear, don't you be a ninny. You'll never 
do better than George. You stick to him. He's 
becoming 'the big noise,' as the Yanks say. You 
don't expect him to put you on in town with only 
eight months' experience, do you?" 

Barbara didn't know what she expected. She was 
hungry for success, and impatient at its uncertain 
delays. The next morning she set off in her smart- 
est coat and skirt, and a hat of black velour with 
an emerald paste buckle, and called on agents. 

She spent a fortnight calling on agents and try- 
ing to see managers, and the result made her weep. 
She waited for hours in stuffy rooms with crowds 
of other girls and men. When she eventually saw 
the agent the interview invariably followed identical 
lines. 

"Well, what experience have you had? What is 
your line? All right. I'll let you know if I hear 
of anything. Good morning." 



SYSTOLE 97 

She did not have quite such sultry experiences 
as Isabel had described, but they were sultry 
enough. Only two of the agents actually tried to 
hold her hands, and only one tried to kiss her, and 
then in a rather fearsome, tentative manner. He 
wanted her to go into an inner office and "see some 
pictures," but she declined. The general attitude 
was that the agents were conferring an enormous 
benefit in seeing her at all, and she ought to appre- 
ciate the fact and recognise it suitably. They looked 
her up and down like a farmer judging cattle at a 
cattle show. Into the sanctum of a theatrical man- 
ager she never managed to penetrate. Mr. So-and- 
So only saw people by appointment. Would she 
kindly write about her business 1 ? She wrote to sev- 
enteen managers. Three of them replied in each 
case a typewritten slip to say that the manager re- 
gretted to say that he had nothing to offer Miss 
F. Telling at the moment. 

At the end of three weeks she put her pride in 
her pocket and went back to George. 

VIII. 

IT took her just two years to reach that little niche 
in George Champneys' autocratic temple which she 
regarded as the resting place worthy of a certain 
glamorous summer day; and the end was attained 
in the most surprising way. 

Two years of delight and bitterness, hard work, 
vivid experience, disappointment, moral question- 
ing, spiritual unrest. The lamp flickered, but at every 
flicker the light became stronger. She learnt to take 
care of herself, to adapt every experience to serve 



98 HEARTBEAT 

her ends. She learnt how to make herself popular, 
to flirt a little, to overlook the delinquencies of her 
fellow artists. She quickly realised that they were 
far better than she had thought at first, far better 
than they appeared on the surface. Her own hot- 
house training had prejudiced her against them, but 
she discovered that beneath their little vanities and 
childish jealousies there was a rich streak of real 
humanity and kindness. They would behave out- 
rageously, and five minutes later they would give 
their last shilling to help a colleague. They were 
just children, these people, egotistic, impetuous, 
wilful, but quick in sympathy, sentimental and 
strangely loyal. She began to love them and to fall 
into their ways. Physically the life agreed with 
her. She found herself getting plump. All the boy- 
ishness, with its quick and jerky movements, van- 
ished. The lines became rounder and softer, the ges- 
tures more deliberate and significant. She had a 
genius for dressing, for making the most of her ma- 
terials, putting a touch of colour in the right place, 
catching up her rich dark hair in cunning sweeps 
under her hats. Her rather square pale face was 
dominated by 

Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs. 

She was a creature ever adjusting her outlook to 
a shifting panorama. She desired passionately to 
be a part of this corporate existence which went on 
round her, but her attitude was always being con- 
trolled by some obscure, submerged sense of pro- 
test. She had strange moods when she was both 
buoyant and desperate. The joy of life was in her 



SYSTOLE 99 

veins, but not in her mind. She distrusted herself, 
and therefore humanity. She had read too little and 
imagined too much. Between her and a frank inter- 
pretation of living were little frozen reticences gov- 
erned by a subconscious voice which was already 
pleading for delay. She felt that in some way her 
very soul had been outraged, and the outrage was 
so colossal she had not the wit to understand it 
as yet. "You are an instrument of readjustment," 
the voice would whisper. 

Then she would tremble, and wish it were not 
so. It was so easy to drift and be jolly. 

George Champneys had an excellent library, and 
during the intervals of the various tours she would 
often call and borrow a book. Even then she didn't 
know what to read, and how to read it. When she 
consulted him he said: 

"My dear, I haven't read a book for years. I never 
get a minute. What do you want? When I was 
young like you I read Emerson^ and Stuart Mill, 
and Schopenhauer, and Kant, and all those people. 
I don't remember a word that any of them said. 
Why not read some fiction? You get profit and 
pleasure at the same time. Now, what about Pick- 
wick?" 

That was the worst of her world. No one had 
a minute for reading. Some of them would play 
cards for four or five hours a day, or spend the 
morning cutting out a skirt or the afternoon at a 
race meeting, but beyond glancing at a daily paper 
no one had a minute for reading. So she set out on 
her lonely pilgrimage of mental improvement, and 
she struggled through Herbert Spencer and tried 
to read Darwin's Origin of Species. She was so 



100 HEARTBEAT 

frankly bored that she decided to take George's ad- 
vice and read fiction not the kind of thing that Isa- 
bel kept under her pillow, lurid novels about high 
life but real, elevating fiction: Meredith, Hardy, 
perhaps Hall Caine. Or wasn't Hall Caine a great 
writer? She didn't know. She had heard some of 
the girls on tour rave about him. She must ask 
George. And George said, "No; Mr. Caine was all 
right, but he wasn't ranked as a classic. Why not 
read 'Diana of the Crossways '?" He had not read 
it never had time but the high-brows spoke well 
of it. So she read "Diana of the Crossways," and 
was bewildered. Were there rich and clever people 
who really talked like that f Her father had known 
many rich and clever people, and they had visited 
at High Barrow, but she had never heard them talk 
like that. They used to mumble and talk in little 
jerky sentences about hunting or eating or politics. 
They were always fairly intelligible, but Diana ! 

Hardy she found more companionable he, in any 
case, dealt with humble people and the tragedy of 
Tess moved her more profoundly than any expe- 
rience in her life. She wanted to get in between 
the pages of this book and take a part in the un- 
fair struggle. Tess epitomised to her the tragedy 
of her mother, the tragedy of herself, the tragedy of 
woman. The whole scheme of life was unfair to 
woman. But through the tears which blinded her 
when she put the great novelist's book down she 
saw a star of hope. Her senses quickened. Forti- 
tude springs from trial and adversity. She already 
beheld in herself qualities of heart and brain which 
she had not possessed and would probably never 



SYSTOLE 101 

have possessed in the shelter of her father's 
house. Of course, men were like that. It was part 
of the regime to keep women sheltered and safe, to 
divorce them from intellectual realities, to hang 
them up on a peg behind the door, to be taken down 
when required. Her father had wanted her to ' * paint 
flowers"! People had painted flowers, and painted 
them very well; there was nothing wrong about it, 
except that it typified her father's attitude towards 
women. While she was painting flowers she was 
quite, out of the way; she couldn't get into mischief, 
and he knew exactly where she was, so that if he 
wanted her he could send for her. Flowers were 
pretty, and women were pretty and soft and cling- 
ing, and almost as perishable admirably adapted 
to each other. 

In a defensive mood she sought out Billy Hama- 
ton. He was living at his father's house at Epsom. 
She found him lying on a portable bed by the win- 
dow of a sunny room overlooking a garden. His 
face appeared to have lengthened, and the freckles 
stood out pronouncedly on his hollow cheeks. The 
eyes were sunken and weary looking. He was al- 
most unrecognisable until he smiled in his old way. 
At the very first glance she knew that her half- 
formed resolution to marry him and nurse him all 
her days was an ideal impossible to fulfil. She pitied 
him intensely, and his face would haunt her all her 
life, but she knew that not only did she not love him, 
she never had loved him. He was a complete 
stranger to her, and a stranger who produced in 
her little tremors of a queer physical revulsion. 

He seized her hand and whispered : 

' * Barbara dear Barbara. ' ' 



102 HEARTBEAT 

"He's going to be sentimental," she thought. "I 
mustn't give way to him. If I do I shall be sick." 

She pressed his hands warmly and said : 

" Hullo, Billy. I've been meaning to come so 
often. How are you, old boy!" 

The "old boy" was a comforting term from her 
new world. She never used to call him ' ' old boy. ' ' 
She rattled on inconsequently : 

"I do hope you'll soon get right, Billy. I feel 
sure you will. I had an awful journey down; train 
got held up at Surbiton for some reason or other. 
What are you reading? Do you ever hear from 
Jean or Cicely? What a glorious day, isn't it!" 

She hemmed him in with a stream of banalities. 
He never got a chance to be sentimental, or to say 
all the things he had been saving up to say. She told 
him about her tours and her work, and about George 
Champneys and Isabel, and a score of people in 
whom Billy could not possibly have been interested. 
They had hardly had tea together before she found 
that she must rush to catch her train back. She 
patted his hands perfunctorily and exclaimed: 

"Well, good luck, old boy! I'll come and see you 
again soon." 

On the way to the station she muttered: 

"Oh, Barbara, you're a brute a horrid, selfish 
little brute!" 

Well, doesn't one have to be selfish? she argued. 
Wasn't her father selfish, and even Isabel, and prob- 
ably Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy? One has to 
be selfish to protect oneself. A person who doesn't 
protect oneself is a sentimental fool. 

She dined that night with Isabel in Soho, and they 
drank red wine with their dinner. She was flushed 



SYSTOLE 103 

and excited. George had sent word that he wished 
to see her at "The Frivolity" between the acts. 

She was shown into the Master Pierrot's dress- 
ing room, and she found him talking to a gentleman 
in his shirt sleeves, with a bowler hat tilted at a 
dangerous angle over his left ear. They were 
drinking whisky-and-soda. He nodded to her cas- 
ually and said: 

"Hullo, Fancy. Wait two minutes. I want to 
see you." 

He went on talking to the man in the bowler hat 
about floats for some minutes, and then dismissed 
him. When he had gone, George said in his thick 
comfortable voice : 

"Now, look here, my dear, it's like this. Miss 
Roland, who has been understudying Rosie, is ill. 
She has got to go to a hospital and have an opera- 
tion. How would you like to take her placet" 

Made! She was made! In that wild moment 
Barbara^ saw her whole career in a tumultuous 
flash. Miss Roland would go to the hospital (and 
probably die). Next week Rosie Ventnor, the lead- 
ing comedienne in the London Frivolity company, 
would also be taken ill. (She might also die.) She, 
Barbara, would step into her place. She would 
make an instantaneous hit. There would be head- 
lines in the newspaper: "Brilliant Debut of Young 
Actress." There would be her portrait in all the 
illustrated papers. There would, be cheers, and 
bouquets, fame and a house with servants in the 
park. London would kneel at her feet. 

She blushed, smiled at George demurely, and in 
a timid voice said : 



104 HEARTBEAT 

"Thank you, Mr. Champneys, I should like it 
very much." 

"All right then; there's a call at eleven in the 
morning. You'll have to work hard, because she 
may have to go off at any time. Go round to the 
front and find Mr. Stiles' office. He'll give you the 
script and the songs. Have a drink? No, of course 
not; you're too young. So long, old girl, I've got to 
get ready." 

Oh, George, George, what a splendid person you 
are ! As she walked dazedly through the streets on 
the way back to the flat, he seemed to hover above 
her like some vast benignant destiny. In a shifting 
and unstable world he, and he alone, appeared a 
creature charged with kindliness and real affection. 
The mere thought of him made her quiver with 
gratitude. From that day when he had first heard 
her sing "La Pauvre Innocente" a new joy and 
sense of freedom had enveloped her. He was so 
vast, competent, reliable and successful. She hated 
herself for having once doubted him. She was a 
wretch to have thought of deserting him. Didn't 
he say that he would push her on as quickly as pos- 
sible? Didn't he promise solemnly? And every- 
one affirmed that George was a man of his word. 
How clear it all was now, this careful planning of 
her three years' experience? She adored him: he 
was like a father, a brother, a protector. She knew 
that during all that time if she had been in any 
kind of trouble he would have helped her. No, it 
wasn't necessary to be selfish to protect oneself; 
it was necessary to be unselfish. Isabel might be 
selfish and even Shakespeare or Hardy but in this 
glowing, thrilling world, one man stood out as a 



SYSTOLE 105 

supreme example of the opposite George Champ- 
neys. 

IX. 

THE position of an understudy is somewhat similar 
to that of a poor man at a rich uncle's bedside. 
His solicitude for the other's welfare is apt to be 
double-faced. 

Barbara's interest in Rosie Ventnor's health was 
an enveloping obsession. She hung about the stage 
door all on edge for her arrival. When Rosie did 
arrive she glanced eagerly at her face to detect any 
signs of indisposition. She watched her from the 
wings; she watched her at the back. She listened 
to find evidence of a cold or crack in the voice. She 
tried so hard not to want Rosie to catch cold or fall 
down and sprain her ankle, but it was impossible. 
She even endured nightmareish temptations to do 
her some hurt surreptitiously, trip her up, or put 
something into the water in her dressing room 
which would make her just a little ill for a fnw 
days. Her malicious impulses were the more to be 
condemned in that Rosie was a very nice girl, and 
was perfectly charming to her. If only she weren't 
so disgustingly healthy! The nights passed, and 
the weeks, and even the months, and still Rosie 
Ventnor came bouncing through the stage door, 
smiling and showing her splendid teeth, whch had 
already served a sound commercial purpose in ad- 
vertising a well-known dentifrice. Even this adver- 
tisement embittered Barbara. With a little luck, 
she might have appeared on the back page of the 
Star above the statement: "Miss Fancy Telling, 



106 HEARTBEAT 

the famous actress, says, 'I always use Blogg's 
Dentifrice. I find it admirable in every way. It 
keeps the teeth splendidly white, and is refreshing 
and pleasant to the palate'." Apart from her re- 
sentment at Rosie's splendid health and teeth, she 
was very happy. 

In the first place she felt that she was on the 
eve of recognition. She had an engagement in 
town, and at one of its most successful productions. 
George would not run the risk of allowing her the 
possibility of playing a leading part unless he 
thought highly of her. She thought she had done 
well at the rehearsals, and Mr. Lamb, who was 
himself an understudy of the great producer, 
Julius Banstead, had openly praised her perform- 
ance. In the second place, the company were far 
more companionable than any of the companies she 
had been with on tour. George's genial spirit 
seemed to permeate them all. There were all kinds 
of little social gatherings in various dressing 
rooms, all kinds of jokes, discussions and stories. 
Even the stage hands were pleasant, uncommon 
people, with queer characteristics and friendly 
manners. There was Sydney Ebbway, a rather 
ugly, lantern-faced man, very thin; he acted as a 
foil to George on the stage. He had a deep, lugu- 
brious voice, and a massive sense of humour. He 
would sometimes take her on one side, and tell her 
about his three children, or his garden at Chiswick. 
From that he would get on to social questions, and 
then religion and God. He talked above her head, 
and she was never quite certain how serious he was, 
but the steady grey twinkly eyes were irresistible, 
and after a time she had to shake her head and 



SYSTOLE 107 

laugh. Then he would seize her by the shoulder 
and say: 

"Why do I waste my eloquence on a baby like 
you?" 

And she would answer : 

"I'm awfully sorry, Mr. Ebbway." 

On one of these occasion he looked at her eyes 
thoughtfully for a long time; then he said: 

* ' I know why it is you 've got it all. ' ' 

He turned away and left her to ponder his mean- 
ing. 

For some reason or other the phrase excited her 
tremendously, and in an obscure way she felt that 
it was true. She had got it all! What? she didn't 
know, but she knew she had got something. It must 
be something enormously important, because the 
sentence implied that it was almost unique to "have 
it all." Some of these other girls. . . . Oh, yes, 
it was a glorious life. It made Mr. Ebbway melan- 
choly to reflect that she had it all. He had sighed 
dismally. It was evident that she had something 
which he had not, and she was only an understudy. 

Days and nights and weeks passed in varying 
moods of delight and misgiving. If only Rosie 
would get ill! The production was still playing to 
packed houses, but it couldn't go on forever. She 
was kept very busy, because George was always in- 
troducing new skits, and gags, and songs, and she 
had to keep up to date with everything. 

One night she arrived home very late and found 
Isabel lying on the Chesterfield, sobbing. She 
rushed and threw her arms around her. 

"What is it, darling? What's the matter?" 
Isabel cried and cried, and could not get her 
voice. At last she said : 



108 HEARTBEAT 

"Oh, God! the fool, the fool!" 

"What is it, darling?" 

Isabel seemed angry and a little unresponsive. 

"Oh, you can't help me, Kiddy. I'm all right. 
I didn't mean you to see me." 

"There must be something. Oh, tell me, what is 
it, darling Isabel? I must help you." 

"No, no go away. I shall be all right. 

She could get nothing further out of her friend, 
and retired to bed in a state of dubious anxiety. 

Two days later Isabel came to her. There were 
dark rings round her eyes, and her lips were pale. 
Without looking at Barbara she said: 

' ' I want you to do me a favour, darling. ' ' 

"Of course, Isabel." 

"I want you to go away and stay somewhere else 
for a week. ' ' 

Barbara was aghast. Something awful and tragic 
was afoot, and an inner voice told her that she had 
better not inquire. She was not to be in this at 
all. She replied in a whisper : 

"All right, darling." 

She was frankly scared. Somehow the chilling 
fears which crept around her heart were less fears 
for Isabel than the uncomfortable sense that she 
was dealing with the unknown. It was also obvious 
that Isabel was frightened and desperate. It was 
also obvious that she was terribly anxious not to im- 
part her trouble to Barbara, but to get rid of her as 
quickly as possible. She immediately went over to a 
private hotel at Paddington, where she knew that one 
of the girls from the Frivolity stayed, and booked 
a room. Then she went back and packed her trunk. 

Isabel hovered like a spectre in the background. 



SYSTOLE 109 

"Take everything you may want, Kiddy. I want 
you to promise me you won't come back, or call, for 
a week. ' ' 

"All right, Isabel I promise." 
More mysteries ! She was frightened of her own 
emotion when she kissed her friend good-bye. She 
pecked her cheek perfunctorily, and steadied her 
voice to say: 

"So long, darling." 
In the cab her heart beat violently. 
"I shall never see her again," was the purport 
of its beat. 

Everything was slipping away from her. Her 
friends? If Isabel died and of course she would 
who else was there to cling to? Only her career, 
her career and the dole flung to her by her father. 
George? Yes, George was a dear good friend, but 
she did not regard him in that way. She felt no 
desire to cling to George. And that is the trouble. 
It isn't sufficient to have friends, and fame, and 
money; when we get down to the raw stuff of our 
being, we demand someone to cling to both phys- 
ically and spiritually. Upon this impulse rests the 
survival of God and humanity. 

That night she hovered in the wings like a little 

scared ghost. For the first time she dreaded that 

Rosie might fall ill. If she had done so, Barbara 

felt certain that she could not have gone on to take 

her place. Her nerves were all unstrung. In one 

of the waits George came across her. He regarded 

her critically under the light of the floats, and said : 

' * What 's the matter, Fancy ? You look ill. > ' 

Tears sprang to her eyes. If anyone started be- 



110 HEARTBEAT 

ing sympathetic she would break down. She shook 
her head and looked away. 

''It's nothing, Mr. Champneys. I'm a little wor- 
ried about something." 

For a moment he appeared to be about to turn 
away. Then he stopped and looked at her again, and 
a most queer expression came over his face. It was 
as though, after looking at her for three years, he 
had suddenly seen her for the first time; or as 
though some entirely novel aspect regarding her 
had presented itself abruptly. He spoke kindly. 

' l Come round to my room after the show. I want 
to speak to you." 

She wished he had not asked her. She was tired, 
jaded, and in no mood for any emotional experience. 
She went to one of the dressing rooms and tried to 
read a book till the final curtain, but the words 
danced before her eyes meaninglessly. Would the 
performance, with its interminable encores, never 
end I "When at last it really did come to a stop, she 
followed the chief to his door. She waited till he 
had gone in, and then tapped timidly. The dresser 
opened it, and admitted her. 

Georgei was already smearing cocoa-butter on 
his face. He said : 

"Come in, Fancy. Sit down. I won't be a 
minute." 

He cleaned up his face and dismissed the dresser. 
Then he turned to her. 

"Now, you've got to tell me what's the matter, 
Fancy." 

She had determined not to give way. She tried 
to speak brightly and cheerfully. 

"It's really nothing, Mr. Champneys; nothing 
at all. I'm only a little out of sorts." 



SYSTOLE 111 

"You said you were worried about something." 

"Yes. No, it's nothing, nothing of any impor- 
tance really." 

He searched her face and did not speak for some 
moments, and when he did his voice had a strange, 
appealing ring : 

"You haven't been getting into trouble?" 

"Getting into trouble?" 

Oh, la pduvre innocent e! It was difficult to know 
how to talk to the child. He mixed himself a whisky 
and soda a stiff one. Then he sat back in a pa- 
ternally judicial attitude. 

"You don't you're not one of those people 
who go about much with boys, are you?" 

She was offended, offended and yet at the same 
time fiercely grateful. He was hurting her in the 
way she desired to be hurt. She would rather quar- 
rel than anything. She replied brusquely: 

"No, I'm not" 

"Did you know why Miss Roland had to leave 
the theatre?" 

"No not exactly, except that she was ill." 

She cowered against the wall, a ruffled kitten. 
Yes, yes it was perfectly true. She was an ex- 
tremely pretty girl and completely innocent. He 
looked away, slightly confused, and said rapidly: 

"I'm sorry, Fancy. I didn't want to offend you, 
my dear. I only wanted to say that you must al- 
ways tell me. If ever you are in trouble of any 
sort, come and tell me at once." 

"Thank you very much, Mr. Champneys." 

"That 's all. Good-night, Fancy." 

* ' Good-night, Mr. Champneys. ' ' 



112 HEARTBEAT 



IN the days that followed she found it impossible 
to evade the realisation of the metamorphosis tak- 
ing place in George Champneys, or to gauge rightly 
the effect reacting upon herself. It was as though 
through the glance of an eye she had jumped sev- 
eral years' experience. The need for considering 
and understanding these readjustments was urgent. 
Even the affair of Isabel became of secondary im- 
portance. 

It was not that he spoke much to her, or acted 
towards her with any manifest difference. It was 
just the way his eye dwelt upon her with a far- 
away, hang-dog appeal, and when he did speak to 
her she noticed that the timbre of his voice warmed 
perceptibly. Her intuitions told her that he desired 
her intensely. 

The immediate outcome of this realization was a 
consuming sense of pride. She examined herself 
in the mirror at various angles. She subjected her 
natural charms to a searching analysis, and came 
out of the ordeal with flying colours. She was, in- 
deed, a pretty woman, a woman of the world, a 
woman sought after, a person of considerable im- 
portance, and only the previous week the mirror 
had told her nothing about all this. She was all 
aglow and aquiver with a novel sense of assurance 
and delight. She read the yearning and the pathos 
in his eyes, and her heart went out to him. How 
tragic it seemed that a man like he, a darling of 
the people, a man whom everyone regarded as the 
personification of success and fun, should carry 
this secret sorrow in his heart. She visualised the 



SYSTOLE 113 

wild nights of triumph, the shouts and cheers: 
"George! George! Bravo, George!" and then the 
utter loneliness and melancholy of his home. Poor 
George! Why hadn't he married years ago? He 
must be forty-six? forty-seven? and she was 
twenty-two. Of course, the whole idea was ridicu- 
lous. She could never marry him, but oh! there was 
something very wonderful in being loved. There 
was something very wonderful in realising the 
power of love. Love. Power! The connection 
could not be idly disregarded. The Billy Hamaton 
affair was an episode, an incident. If George loved 
her she would have to face the potentialities of dy- 
namic action. George was not a person to be dis- 
missed or passed over lightly. The day would come 
rapidly when she would have to show her hand. 

Of course, he was not the knight of her dreams, 
but does a girl ever meet the knight of her dreams? 
Besides is she always certain to recognise him? 
Does anything ever happen as we expect it? He 
was so good, so kind, the dearest friend she had in 
the world. When the test came she would have not 
only to have the measure of her own emotions and 
desires, but to face the cleavage of two very definite 
material positions. On the one hand dismissal, 
drifting away into obscurity, possibly touring with 
third-rate companies, being out of work for months 
on end, calling on those objectionable agents, being 
insulted and "mauled about." On the other hand, 
the certainty of a "lead" in one of the most popu- 
lar theatres in London, fame, considerable wealth 
Power. Oh, yes, there was certainly something very 
wonderful in the power of love ! 

One morning, whilst dwelling on these disturb- 



114 HEARTBEAT 

ing reflections, there came a telegram from Isabel: 

"Come and see me. Am all right. Isabel" 

She was at the flat within half an hour. She found 
Isabel in bed. in charge of a queer middle-aged 
woman, who said: 

"You must keep quiet and not mug her about. 
Don't shake the bed. She's all right, but she's got 
to stay there weeks yet." 

Isabel looked very ill, and she wept a little when 
Barbara kissed her. Of the nature of her illness 
she would say nothing except : 

"Thank God that's over, kiddy." 

Barbara felt embarrassed. Such a lot had hap- 
pened that week, and she and Isabel each had se- 
crets they could not share. Never mind. Dear old 
Isabel! She would soon be her dear, sloppy, kind- 
hearted self again. 

"Can I come back?" Barbara asked. 

"Yes. Do come back, dear. I'm lonely. That 
hateful old woman. . . . You must be very quiet, 
though, and not make me cry." 

Barbara promised, and that same afternoon 
found her re-established in the flat. Before she left 
for the theatre she went in to see Isabel again. She 
seemed feverish and worried. Barbara rememberd 
her promise not to make her cry, so she said in a 
matter-of-fact voice : 

"Is there anything else I can do, darling?" 

She did not know why that innocent question 
should make Isabel cry again, but it did. At last, 
with their cheeks pressed together, Isabel whis- 
pered : 

"Do you still love me, Fancy?" 

"Of course I do, darling!" 



SYSTOLE 115 

"There's no one else, is there? You look differ- 
ent, kiddy brighter and prettier." 

Barbara did not know how to reply, and Isabel 
suddenly added : 

"It's like this, dear: I've no money, and that aw- 
ful old woman wants ten quid by to-morrow morn- 
ing." 

"I'll pay it," said Barbara eagerly. "And any 
more that you want." 

She left Isabel weeping with relief. 

XI. 

AT the theatre that night her sense of importance 
increased. She glanced at the other artistes and 
the stage hands to see if she could detect any signs 
of knowledge of the situation on their part. She 
peeped through the curtain and surveyed the 
packed house. What a lot of money it must hold! 
Rows and rows of people who had paid ten-and-six- 
pence for a seat. She had never thought about it 
that way before. Her mind was subtly intrigued 
by the image of proprietorship. And all these other 
people the "lights," the scene shifters, the assist- 
ant stage manager how different their attitude 
would be if they knew, or even suspected. She 
mustn't let them know or suspect, because, of 
course, the whole idea was ridiculous. One of the 
girls was short with her because she got in her way 
at an exit. 

"I could put you in your place, my dear," she 
thought. 

George was there early, watching out for her. 
She could tell that by the expression of his face, 



116 HEARTBEAT 

a little preoccupied, and then lighting up with 
pleasure, almost with relief, at sight of her. He 
smiled and regarded her wistfully across a group 
of people, but there was no opportunity to speak. 
Between the acts she avoided him intentionally, and 
before the show was over she left. This silent com- 
munion went on for several weeks, and the commit- 
ment was no less definite for not being outwardly 
expressed. She observed the struggle going on in 
him, the lines of. desire deepen about his eyes and 
mouth. Occasionally he would make excuses for 
touching her when they were waiting in the wings. 
On these occasions she would feel the deliberate 
message of the contact. He would look at her hun- 
grily, and whisper, so that the others could not 
hear: 

"Barbara, Barbara." 

She knew that the position could not remain long 
so, and when one night he said: "Barbara I want 
you to come out to my place and lunch with me to- 
morrow," she felt relieved, although still utterly 
unprepared for action. 

The lunch was a curiously constrained entertain- 
ment. They were waited on by an elderly house- 
keeper who did most of the talking. The great 
comedian for once had lost his touch. He was som- 
bre and ill at ease. She felt that the positions had 
been reversed. She was no longer a child. He was 
the child, and she a grown woman. She mothered 
him into a state of subjection, and when the old 
woman had retired it was she who suggested that 
they should adjourn to the studio. Once there, she 
managed to get him ensconced in the big easy chair 
by the fireplace, while she sat some way off, and 



SYSTOLE 117 

chatted indifferently about the affairs of the thea- 
tre. She tried manfully to plug up the gaps and 
reticences with gossip and mirth, till she became 
painfully aware that her measures were but a tem- 
porary shift. Her defensive chatter was like at- 
tacking an elephant with a pea-shooter. He was 
occupied avidly with his eyes, and with his ears not 
at all. 

At last he rose, and stood with his legs wide 
apart and his back to the fire. Steadying his voice 
he said with quiet emphasis : 

"Do you know that Rosie Ventnor's contract ex- 
pires next month?" 

What was the significance of that? What was 
he implying? Surely not that she. . . . She 
snapped out breezily: 

''Really? Well, you'll renew it, of course. She 
surely won't be leaving?" 

He held her in an inquisitorial glance as he mur- 
mured : 

"It all depends." 

She knew then that the issue was joined. George 
was coming out into the open. She must gather 
together her scattered, unprepared forces. She re- 
peated mechanically: 

"It all depends?" 

"Yes. On you." 

Having delivered his message, he advanced 
slowly upon her, before the flavour of this glitter- 
ing implication had had time to dissipate. She was 
indeed held by it, his own propinquity for the mo- 
ment disregarded. She ... the star of the Frivol- 
ities ! As in a dream she was aware of being picked 
out of her chair and crushed in his arms. From a 



118 HEARTBEAT 

long way off she seemed to hear the low, vibrant 
notes of his voice. 

"Oh, Barbara, Barbara. You know I love you, 
don't you? Give me your lips. I want you. Bar- 
bara, Barbara." 

The effort appeared to wind him. His breath 
came in short stabs. 

She hung rigid in his arms, her eyes closed. He 
kissed her lips, but she did not respond. Some- 
where in the house someone was practicing a scale. 
The sound took hold of her. All her physical, men- 
tal and moral being was in a state of suspense. She 
could neither think nor focus. He was hurting her 
as he puffily sought to make her respond to his 
embraces. 

She cried out limply : 

"Oh oh, Mr. Champneys no, please!" 

"Barbara, I love you. Can't you? can't you?" 

At last he withdrew his arms and lips, stung to 
reaction by her lack of reciprocity. He had found 
out the answer to the query which had been tortur- 
ing him for weeks. She did not respond. She did 
not love him. He held no physical attraction for 
her. Fool! what could he expect? The position was 
not without hope, though. He had failed to carry 
the ramparts by storm, but other methods could be 
tried. He meandered helplessly to the fireplace, 
and buried his face in his hands. He looked a pa- 
thetic figure standing there, a large, unhappy child. 
She pitied him, and desired intensely to envelop 
him with maternal tenderness. 

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Champneys. Oh, you have 
been so kind to me. You are one of the few dear 



SYSTOLE 119 

friends I have. My dear, I'm so sorry. It's only 
that somehow I . . ." 

She could not express herself. He shrngged his 
shoulders and spoke in a low, husky tone : 

''I know, I know, old girl. I know I had no right 
to ask you. I wanted to ask you to marry me, but 
I know it's all utterly absurd. I'm twenty-three 
years older than you, Barbara. I'm battered, shop- 
worn. I've played ducks and drakes with all the 
ten commandments. You're only a kid." 

"I wouldn't care about all that side of it," she 
flashed out, trying to relieve him. 

He regarded her thoughtfully. 

"No, you wouldn't care about that side of it, only 
that you feel it. Your intuitions, eh? I revolt 
you " 

"No, no, no." 

Suddenly he turned away, and cried out desper- 
ately : 

"There's one thing I won't have your pity. If 
you can't love me we must cut it out. But I can't 
stand you pitying me, Barbara. See! You can't 
think how that would torture me. When a man asks 
for love and only gets pity, my God! it's apt to 
drive him mad. I should think of you almost laugh- 
ing at me " 

"Oh, my dear, I'm too fond of you for that." 

"No, no, but it might come. There would always 
be the ugly dread. I believe I could make you love 
me, Barbara. To a girl like you you don't under- 
stand love would come afterwards. It's better 
for you to be loved than to love. God! I would be 
good and loyal to you. I would surround you with 
everything you wish. I would be tender. I would 



120 HEARTBEAT 

never do anything you did not approve of. I would 
make you famous, if you desire it rich." 

Yes, the material issues were clear enough. She 
had no illusions on that score. Their very defin- 
iteness augmented her sense of an outrage on her 
liberty her freedom to decide, her freedom to de- 
velop on her own lines. She spoke in a voice under 
complete control for the first time during the in- 
terview. 

"What did you mean, George, when you said it 
all depends!" 

He looked puzzled. 

"What did I mean! What do you mean, Bar- 
bara?" 

"I was thinking of the alternative." 

He snatched at her meaning, and shook his large 
head almost angrily. 

"Oh, I wasn't meaning to blackmail you, Bar- 
bara. I don't want to tempt you like that. It's 
only that well, if you won't have me, I simply 
couldn't have you in the theatre. I couldn't stand 
it, you seel I wouldn't let you down. I would get 
you a good tour, or a part somewhere else. I'd pay 
you. I'd do anything you like, only I couldn't bear 
having you so near me, torturing me to distraction. 
If you'd have me, well, it's natural for a man to do 
everything for his wife's career, if she wants to 
have a career. And it isn't as though I should be 
foisting inferior goods on the public for personal 
reasons. I should be proud of you. You'd soon 
be as clever and popular as Rosie Ventnor." 

George made this statement quite simply and sin- 
cerely, little suspecting what a big influence it 
would have upon his case. He saw her face flush 



SYSTOLE 121 

with eagerness, her troubled brow clear with relief. 
Not so hopeless, after all. She's a little unstrung. 
Leave her alone. Give her time to reflect. 

He smiled at her in his old friendly way and held 
out his hand. 

"I'm worrying you, old girl. I didn't mean to 
do that. Now, you trot along home and think about 
it. Only don't keep me in this state of torment 
long." 

At the door she kissed him rather primly on the 
cheek, and said: 

"You're a dear nice person." 

xn. 

\ 

SHE did not tell Isabel about her affair till two days 
later. She was impatient with her friend's illness. 
She would have liked to have dined out with her at 
some gay restaurant, and over a bottle of red wine 
lain bare her soul. Isabel was still flaccid and en- 
tirely concentrated on her own troubles. She had 
irretrievably lost her place at Daly's and she would 
probably be unable to work for months. She had 
no money, and appeared to have contracted various 
inexplicable debts. Poor old Isabel! Barbara did 
not mind that. Her money was Isabel's money, so 
far as it went. But it was beginning to dawn upon 
her that in a short while it would hardly go far 
enough. Bills came in for all kinds of luxuries the 
girls had indulged in before Isabel's illness. Isabel 
had been hopelessly vague in money matters, and 
Barbara had been careless. Now she realized that 
all her available capital was gone, and that they 
were depending entirely on her own small salary 



122 HEARTBEAT 

and the cheque for 33 10s. which the lawyers sent 
her every month. This was a sheet anchor, and 
she felt that whilst there was that to rely on she 
could go on borrowing and running up bills indefi- 
nitely. These were trivial considerations, if only 
Isabel would be her old self. She was bursting to 
discuss George's proposal with someone, and so on 
the second day she went out and bought a bottle of 
port. After lunch she poured out two glasses, one 
for Isabel and one for herself, then, to her annoy- 
ance, found that Isabel had been forbidden to drink 
anything alcoholic for some weeks. So she drank 
her own glass, and, still lacking the encouragement 
of her friend's response, she began on the other. 
Then she talked. 

"You know I lunched with George Champneys 
tjie day before yesterday, darling? Well, I haven't 
told you he proposed to me." 

Isabel sat up in bed, her eyes vividly awake at 
last. 

"He proposed to you! What marriage!" 

"Yes, of course." 

"My God!" 

"What do you think, Isabel?" 

"You lucky little devil!" 

"Would you marry him?" 

"Marry him! Of course you'll marry him. You 
are the luckiest little devil I've ever struck." 

"But, listen, darling. That's what I want to talk 
to you about. You see, I'm very fond of him, very 
fond of him indeed he's a perfect dear rbut I 
don't love him, you know not really. I don't feel 
I want him. I don't love him as much as I do you 
darling." 



SYSTOLE 123 

"My Lord! do you realise what this means? It 
means 'lead' for you forever, and you can wangle 
all your pals into fat parts. It means you're 
made. George is rich. You'll have a big house, 
and a car, and dine at the Savoy and the Carlton. 
You'll get into all the papers. You'll be another 
May Mendelssohn without having to push for it 
like she's had to. Oh, you lucky little wretch 1" 

"Yes, but, darling, I know all that but do you 
think you could be happy with a man you don't 
really love?" 

"Love! You'd soon get to love him. He's a 
white man, George, a good chap. He'll play the 
game by you." 

"That's what I want to know. He said it was 
almost a promise that love would come after. Is 
it possible? Does it ever come after?" 

"Of course it does. It would with you. You can 
be taught to love in the same way that you can be 
taught to sing and dance, if you have a natural tal- 
ent for it. And if anybody has, you have. You're 
a passionate little devil. A man would have a good 
time with you. Excuse my crudeness, but you know 
what I mean." 

The port-wine had gone to Barbara's head. She 
regarded Isabel's statement without disgust. She 
wanted to know the truth of things. She rumi- 
nated. 

"When he kissed me, I didn't mind it. I wasn't 
revolted, as he suggested. I only felt that I didn't 
want to kiss him in reply." 

"You wait till you've been kissed properly a few 
times; you'll soon want to reply." 

"Isabel darling, all this 'mauling about' you speak 
of, what does it mean?" 



124 HEARTBEAT 

"It means that when you've been kissed properly 
it gets into your blood. You can't do without it. 
That's why I'm no, I can't tell you anything. 
You're an innocent lamb. But I'll tell you this. You 
could soon get to love George in that particular way 
if you like him very much in the other way. ' ' 

" Isn't there a kind of combination, wheri you 
love a man in every way?" 

"Yes, in novels and plays, not in real life, except 
perhaps one in ten thousand. Don't you be a fool. 
You're on a good thing. If George was rich and 
influential, and a blackguard. I'd say no, cut it out. 
But he isn't; everybody in the profession knows 
that George is all right." 

Barbara finished up her second glass of port and 
kissed Isabel more passionately than the occasion 
seemed to demand. 

"You're a darling old thing," she said. "I sup- 
pose it means I shall do it." 

Her decision, however, swung backwards and for- 
wards like the pendulum of a clock. When the 
effects of the port had worked off she decided not 
to do it. On a walk just after tea she decided to 
do it. On her way to the theatre she said "No." 
"While the orchestra was tuning up she thought 
"Yes." When she went to bed at night she mur- 
mured, "No, no, no; a thousand times no." 

The following evening, just after dinner, she 
promised George Champneys to marry him. 

XIII. 

THE announcement of her engagement to George 
created a thrill beyond her wildest expectations. As 
she anticipated, the, attitude of everyone at the 



SYSTOLE 125 

theatre changed electrically., Rosie Ventnor and 
the other girls embraced her as though she was, 
and always had been, their dearest friend. Sydney 
Ebbway and his male colleagues treated her- as a 
person of consequence, and not an insignificant little 
understudy. Stage-hands who had hitherto ignored 
her touched their hats and said: "Good evening, 
miss." The assistant stage-manager, who had been 
rude and abrupt with her, cringed with civility. 
Moreover, her name appeared instantaneously in 
nearly every daily paper. "Hearty congratulations 
to George Champneys! We have the pleasure to 
announce that the famous comedian is engaged to 
Miss Fancy Telling, a promising young actress at 
present understudying at the Frivolity. The wed- 
ding is to take place shortly. ' ' 

"At present" had a thrill of its own. Three 
weekly illustrated papers published her portrait. 
Seven photographers wrote begging to be allowed 
to take her photograph free of charge. The leaves 
were already whispering in the winds of triumph. 
The decision being taken, she was determined 
to give no hostages to fortune, to indulge in no re- 
grets or fears. George was a person worthy of her 
love, and she would love him to the very best of her 
ability. She had no standard by which to judge 
the nature of her affection. That she was fond of 
him she knew. She admired his genius, his strength, 
his simplicity. She felt happy and proud in his 
society. She desired to have charge of him, to min- 
ister to his wants, to mother his weaknesses. And 
of that other love, had not Isabel said it could be 
learnt? Had not George said nay, promised that 
it would come afterwards? In the meantime the 



126 HEARTBEAT 

days and nights were crowded with a thousand an- 
ticipations and delights. Amidst their welter one 
thought stood out. Once married to George, she 
would reject the dole her father had flung her. She 
would free herself of the Powerscourt taint. The 
price had been paid. In marrying George she would 
perhaps reconnect the chain which her mother's 
misjudgment had snapped. Where her mother had 
failed she would succeed. She would justify her 
mother. She would carry on her story to a happier 
and worthier climax. 

George's days were very occupied, and there was 
little time for dalliance. He gave her a wonderful 
diamond and emerald engagement ring, and having 
placed it on her finger he patted her hand, smiling 
in an expansive and possessive manner, as much 
as to say: 

' ' There, my dear, that's that." 

When they were alone he was tenderness itself, 
a little humble and sentimental. She observed that, 
although he kissed her, he very seldom "kissed her 
properly," to quote Isabel's phrase. He seemed 
terrified of shocking or frightening her. She had 
never realised before how pliable a strong man may 
become. She could do anything with him she liked : 
he was her slave. This sense of power, although 
it intoxicated her, fortified some of her saner resolu- 
tions. In the first place, she decreed that Rosie 
Ventnor was not to be dismissed so summarily. The 
action would appear, and be, crude and venomous. 
She suggested that at first she should play a minor 
part in the revue, and then, if she made good and 
the London public liked her, she should eventually 
take a lead in a later production. George readily 



SYSTOLE 127 

acquiesced, and he was pleased with her for sug- 
gesting this. In the first place, Eosie Ventnor was 
a popular favorite, a draw, and Fancy Telling was 
quite unknown. In the second place, he was not 
fully persuaded that she was endowed with sufficient 
sense of comedy to fill a niche evacuated by the 
popular Rosie. Barbara was a better singer and a 
better dancer, but she lacked the gift of burlesque. 
She was always herself; she had no power of im- 
itation. She had the joy of life, and she was not 
without humour, but it was the humour of high 
spirits and good health. Her humour was never 
acid, or mordant, or particularly subtle. 

In his present mood he would have sacked Rosie 
at a moment's notice to please Barbara, but his 
managerial acumen applauded her decision. Not 
only was she a dear, warm-hearted, passionate, en- 
tirely innocent little thing, but she was sensible. 
During his life George had found that beauty and 
sense were seldom bed-fellows. 

He bestirred himself to please her in other ways. 
His bachelor house at South Kensington would 
have to be renovated and brought up to date. The 
thought of it made him shudder. He had an ex- 
cellent housekeeper, an excellent cook, a reliable 
valet, who also acted as a dresser, and several other 
servants who had been with him for years. How 
would they welcome the invasion of a mistress ? The 
establishment had got into a bit of a groove, per- 
haps, but how smoothly and perfectly it worked! 
George was of opinion that anyone doing his kind 
of work must have all his creature comforts liber- 
ally catered to. At home he wore a shabby old suit 
and carpet slippers, but everything in the household 



128 HEARTBEAT 

was ideally arranged. In the morning when he awoke 
he pressed a bell which set the domestic machinery in 
motion. Tea was brought him on a tray; his bath 
was turned on with the water regulated to exactly 
the right temperature ; clean linen and clothes were 
put out for him; when he arrived in the breakfast- 
room the silver entree-dish was awaiting him and 
the tea made, his letters in a neat pile, with a silver 
cutter by their side, and the daily papers in an 
orderly array on the other side of the table; after 
breakfast the fire would be glowing in the library, 
some two dozen beloved pipes in a rack by the side- 
board, probably his secretary awaiting him with a 
report of last night's returns. He was a chubby- 
faced young man, and he would call out: "Good 
morning, guv 'nor. " 

Then the day's work would begin. And the do- 
mestic arrangements dovetailed themselves with 
silent perfection into the demands of the day's 
work. He did not even say whether he would be in 
to meals. A man in his position can't commit him- 
self to such trivialities. Anything might happen. 
He might say yes, and then the telephone would go, 
and he would have to rush down to the theatre, or 
to lunch with a syndicate or a colleague. And so 
these perfectly cooked meals were always there if 
he required them, and if he brought three or four 
people in unexpectedly it seemed to make no differ- 
ence. Furniture was polished, curtains cleaned, 
clothes repaired, breakages replaced, coal stored 
for the winter, rooms vacuum-cleaned, the garden 
kept in order, enormous quantities of food and 
drink stowed away in cellars, and then either cook- 
ed, eaten, drunk, wasted or destroyed. 



SYSTOLE 129 

And from all these details George kept carefully 
aloof. He did not even pay the bills. Every week 
this competent and masterful housekeeper, whose 
name was Mrs. Piddinghoe, had an interview with 
the competent and masterly secretary, Mr. Toller, 
in the library. She presented all the bills, and he 
gave her cheques for some and cash for others. If 
you had asked George whether cheese was as ex- 
pensive as York ham, or whether thirty shillings a 
week for a bachelor's laundry was rather a lot, he 
would not have known the answer. The theatre 
was playing to capacity, and whether his household 
expenses came to forty pounds a month or one hun- 
dred and forty did not seem of much importance. 

Neither had he ever known the shifts and strug- 
gles of most successful actors. He had always been 
rich. His father made a large fortune with a dye- 
works in Lancashire, and it had all been divided 
between George and his brother, who was a ship- 
broker in Liverpool. After going to Rugby he had 
spent two years at Owen's College, Manchester, and 
from there had entered his father's dye-works with 
a view to taking an active part in the business. He 
showed, however, little aptitude for it, and office 
life cramped him. His fine baritone voice and droll 
sense of fun delighted his friends but annoyed his 
father, who was a hard-headed Primitive Method- 
ist. At the end of three years they quarrelled, and 
George was threatened with the risk of learning by 
experience the relative values of ham and cheese, 
when his father died suddenly from blood-poison- 
ing as the result of a trivial accident in his own 
works. No will was found, and so the estate which 
was assessed at one hundred and forty-five thousand 



130 HEARTBEAT 

pounds was divided between the two brothers. The 
mother had died when they were at school. 

George then packed up his traps and came to 
London. He had not at first any idea of the stage 
or of the theatrical enterprise. He was young and 
rich, and he desired to see the world. He stayed at 
a club in Jermyn Street, and there he made friends, 
entertained, and went to concerts and theatres. The 
only thing in the nature of work which he indulged 
in was to have singing lessons from a well-known 
professor. After a dozen or so lessons the profes- 
sor became irritated with him. He said : 

"I can't make you out, Champneys. You've got 
a good voice, but I can't make you do anything with 
it. It's just as though you're laughing at yourself 
all the time." 

George sighed, and reflected deeply upon this criti- 
cism. He began to realise that it was true. He 
could sing a parody of an Italian opera, or a Ger- 
man opera, with a richness and fullness of voice that 
would have done credit to some of the leading opera 
singers themselves, but when he attempted to sing 
seriously it never came off. Well, perhaps the pro- 
fessor was right. He didn't take himself seriously. 
"Why should he, after all? He would see what ex- 
perience the Continent had to offer him. 

He went to Paris, Vienna, and Buda-Pesth, and 
indulged in the normal dissipations of those cities. 
Then he went on to Milan, Venice, and Florence, 
and at Fiesole he experienced the first great love 
affair of his life. She was a pretty woman, the wife 
of an American who was comfortably ensconced in 
his own country. The intrigue was unquestionably 
sordid, but wrapped up in the romantic glamour of 



SYSTOLE 131 

ilex groves, Renaissance temples, and the perfume 
of white flowers by moonlight. She was staying 
alone at the hotel, but was known by many people. 
They had to be circumspect, and therefore sordid. 
So great, however, became the call of their mutual 
passion that they sneaked away, and lived together 
for six weeks at Rapallo. That was the golden era 
of George's life. When afterwards he dreamed of 
love, when afterwards he had other experiences, 
that pervading vision would haunt him the yellow 
sands of the little bay, the villa entangled with 
flowers against the dark trees, Maisie leaning over 
the balcony, holding out her arms. In that vision 
dwelt the flavour of perpetuity. 

She got frightened at last frightened of her 
friends, of her fate, of her husband. He tried to 
persuade her to stay with him for ever, but her 
nerves were all unstrung. She must go away. Oh 
yes, at once to-day. Maisie was like that impetu- 
ous darling! 

XIV. 

HE never saw her again. He wrote innumerable 
letters, but they were never answered. He wan- 
dered disconsolately back to Paris. He had a vague 
idea of continuing singing and perfecting his 
French. To this end he stayed at a quiet hotel in 
Etoile and sought a new professor. For a time he 
worked stolidly, avoiding the, normal distractions 
of the Gay City. He went to theatres, but more with 
the idea of studying French and French acting than 
of enjoying himself. The attic spirit of French 
comedy and satire intrigued him. He got intro- 
duced to a famous comedian, with whom he made 



132 HEARTBEAT 

friends, and it was in his house that he met Licette 
Rameau, a fair-haired, vivacious young actress, at 
that time playing an insignificant part at the Odeon. 
Mutual attraction quickly ripened into a passionate 
attachment. Eight months after the disappearance 
of Maisie he was keeping Licette in a little flat near 
the Quai d'Orsay. He became absorbed into Paris- 
ian theatrical life, where many distinguished men 
kept their mistresses and were a little proud of the 
achievement, and not infrequently took them about 
with their wives. During that time George learnt a 
lot about the technique of the French theatre, as 
well as about the technique of love and the order- 
ing of a good dinner. It cannot be said that Licette 
treated him very well. At the end of a year he dis- 
covered that she was getting commissions from 
tradespeople for the goods he was supplying her! 
And when, a few weeks later, he happened to come 
in unexpectedly one evening, and found a fair- 
haired minor poet hiding in the bathroom, he de- 
cided that the time had come to part. 

It was at about that time that he met Miles Ron- 
nie. He was a theatrical manager who had gone to 
Paris to see whether there was anything worth 
adapting. In George he found the very man he was 
looking for. George knew everything that was on, 
was a shrewd judge, and spoke French fluently. The 
outcome of their few days' acquaintanceship was 
that George agreed to translate and adapt a French 
farce. He arrived in London a few weeks later with 
the farce nicely trimmed up and bowdlerised for the 
English stage. Miles Ronnie was very pleased with 
it, and decided to send it on tour; but what most 
impressed him was the value of George at rehearsals. 
He was a born comedian. 



SYSTOLE 133 

"Why in God's name don't you come into the 
business I " he asked one day. 

George laughed. Why should he go into the busi- 
ness? Nevertheless he found himself restless and 
bored when not doing something connected with the 
theatre. One day he had a bright idea. He would 
write a revue on the pattern of the French revue. 
He would write the libretto and some of the lyrics, 
and get hold of some rising young composer to do 
the score. The farce had gone on tour and was be- 
ing a reasonable success. Miles Bonnie was en- 
thusiastic at the idea of the revue, so he settled 
down to work. And then one evening at Ronnie's 
house he found himself gazing into the eyes of 
Peggy Alcester. They were deep grey wistful eyes, 
with just sufficient maliciousness to keep them from 
being sentimental. George said to himself: 

"George, old boy, it's time you settled down." 

He spent an inspiriting summer, writing and pro- 
ducing the revue, and making love to Peggy. In 
July the revue was produced, and failed. In Aug- 
ust he proposed to Peggy and was accepted. Of the 
revue Ronnie said: 

"It's a damn good revue, Champneys, only too 
close to the French model. You can't expect to get 
our people to act it." 

The failure of the revue annoyed George intense- 
ly. He felt that he had done good work, but that he 
had been misunderstood, and misinterpreted. Peggy 
went down to Cornwall with some friends, and in 
spite of the temptation to follow her he decided to 
reconsider some of the revue, rehearse it again, and 
play the leading comedian's part himself, just to 
see whether it couldn't be made a success. Ronnie 



134 HEARTBEAT 

had laid out a lot of money on it, and George felt 
that he had rather let him down. The marriage was 
arranged for October. 

The revue was put into rehearsal again, and 
George was an enormous success as a fat show- 
man. A seasoned company could hardly get through 
rehearsals for laughing at him. The night for the 
new edition was announced. 

Going down to the stage for the dress rehearsal 
he met a telegraph-boy, who handed him a telegram. 
When he read it he groaned, and collapsed in the 
stone passage. Peggy had been drowned bathing at 
Trevagissy. 

After that he sulked from the stage, he sulked 
from life. In a state of extreme depression he went 
to stay with his brother in Liverpool, and made a 
tentative survey of ship-broking, finance, and relig- 
ion. Something within him hardened and crystal- 
lised. He felt that he had been badly treated by life. 
He wallowed in self-pity. He almost decided to be- 
come religious, to marry some decent girl, whether 
he liked her or not, have children, go into business, 
deal with the world on its own terms. But the wo- 
men he met in his brother's circle bored him to a 
frenzy. He knew nothing of their world, and they 
knew nothing of his. High finance gave him a head- 
ache. In a short while he found himself sneaking 
away alone to theatres or music-halls, and creeping 
into the bars of obscure pubs in search of congenial 
society. 

One day he met a man shortly leaving for New 
York. An impulsive desire came over him to visit 
the New "World. He managed to secure a berth on 
the outgoing liner. On the voyage he had an affair 



SYSTOLE 135 

with a French widow; it was highly distracting, but 
did not touch him very profoundly. At Hoboken 
they swore eternal fidelity, and never saw each other 
again. In New York George found society after his 
own heart in various clubs the Lambs, the Lotus 
and the Players. It was April, and the atmosphere 
of New York acted like wine. His vitality had never 
been so high. His previous experiences paled be- 
fore this blast of American hospitality. This was 
indeed a new world. He was always in demand for 
his songs, his droll stories, his genial personality. 
He became tremendously excited by the warmth of 
his reception. He would be up half the night, and 
yet not be tired the next day. And then he met 
James Byron Eberfeld, who was taking a star com- 
pany of top-notchers to tour the middle Western 
States, and James proposed that he should accom- 
pany them. The idea fitted in with his mood, and 
so he made his first professional appearance in 
Columbus, Ohio. He little suspected on that open- 
ing night in Columbus that he was destined to climb 
to the top of the tree. They were away five months, 
and although the tour was a great success, George 
was not conspicuously successful. They enjoyed 
his singing, but he was handicapped by his ignor- 
ance of the vernacular. His humour was a little 
too English in diction and French in method, and at 
the same time he had actually had very little ex- 
perience, and his face and figure had not filled out 
to that expansive condition which later on invited 
a laugh in itself. They were a congenial, good- 
tempered company, and he learned to play poker, 
and eat clams and hashed beef and squash pie, and 
by the end of the tour his knowledge of cocktails 
was not to be despised. 



136 HEARTBEAT 

Returning to New York at the beginning of Sep- 
tember, he plunged into a wild and unaccountable 
mood of dissipation. He had probably arrived at the 
apex of his physical powers, and his moral powers 
offered little resistance. He was drunk with the 
partial success of his own theatrical experiences. 
The wine of glamour and publicity had gone to his 
head. Backed by his own considerable fortune he 
foresaw the possibilities of achieving a great suc- 
cess. In any case he had found out what he was fit- 
ted for, and the realisation gave him a sense of free- 
dom. The stage was his destiny, and he would 
worry about women and domestic happiness no 
longer. Women? Yes, but not as co-mates or com- 
panions. - Nothing should stand between him and 
the flattery of the crowd, the augmentation of his 
individuality. He was astute enough to see that he 
would have to go back home. In America there 
were many and excellent comedians working in their 
own particular genre; he would not be able to com- 
pete with them, but in London or Paris he would 
be in his normal environment. Although the vision 
dazzled him, he could not make up his mind to leave 
New York. He had drifted into a dubious company 
of underworld spirits. He began to drink and car- 
ouse and eat into the capital of his conscience. He 
lived in a flat in Twenty-Sixth Street with Betty 
Saskewan, a woman with the record of a degener- 
ate, who still retained certain opulent charms. They 
gave parties which could only be described as orgies. 
This unaccountable wave of depravity lasted eight 
months. George's figure grew fat and puffy, his 
face flabby and lax, his eyes dull and heavily lined. 
And then one day he was seized with a serious ill- 



SYSTOLE 137 

ness. He was sent to a nursing-home and had to 
undergo a major operation** He hovered between 
life and death, and Betty vanished into the Ewig- 
keit. He was in the nursing-home two months, and 
then went up to the Adirondacks to recuperate. One 
day he looked at himself in the mirror, and he said : 

''This won't do, old boy, this won't do. Cut it 
out, old boy, cut it out!" 

He pulled himself together and obeyed the doc- 
tor. He reviewed this period of abysmal folly 
through a blurred mirror of introspection. He was 
not fundamentally a depraved and vicious man. 
Truly he liked good things, and he had the material 
means and the physical abundance to obtain and 
enjoy them. He was a spiritual opportunist, a little 
abnormal and weak. He had been spoilt by good 
fortune, a strong frame, and a complete lack of in- 
centive. He was just carried along by the riches of 
his vitality. But now his vitality was a little broken 
his fortune considerably impaired, and he was 
lonely. That was it; he became convinced that the 
basic cause of his unwarranted outbreak was the 
condition of utter loneliness. If only Maisie or 
Peggy if he had only met Maisie or Peggy when 
he was quite a young man, how different he might 
be now! He had wandered over the earth seeking 
love, and he had found only entertainment. And 
soon he would be reaching that stage when he could 
no longer compel love the thought horrified him. 
Women would pity him; they would throw crumbs 
of pity to his hungry heart. He had never been 
good-looking, and now he was already getting a little 
passe, shop-worn. 

When well enough, he went shamefacedly back to 



138 HEARTBEAT 

New York, and took the next boat to England. After 
his New York experiences the more staid atmos- 
phere of London fitted in with his contrite mood. 
He went back to his old club in Jermyn Street and 
sought out some of his old theatrical friends. He 
met a man named Morgan Menges and they started 
a Pierrot entertainment of six, three men and three 
girls, at an obscure concert-hall at Netting Hill. The 
entertainment was a complete failure. George was 
unknown, and he had got rather out of touch with 
the topical feeling of London at that time. More- 
over, people at Netting Hill don't go to Pierrot en- 
tertainments. They lost several hundred pounds, 
and the partnership broke up. 

George was not unduly discouraged. Although 
he had squandered a good part of his fortune he 
was still a comparatively wealthy man; he could 
afford to start again. He was now middle-aged, but 
he knew that he was at the zenith of his powers. 
He engaged a company of his own and took the lease 
of a small hall in Great Portland Street. He ad- 
vertised the entertainment extensively. It took 
London three years to recognise that in George 
Champneys it had a comedian quite out of the com- 
mon. Then he began to come into his own. That 
three years' hard work cost him several thousand 
pounds, but it made his name. He received innum- 
erable offers from theatrical managers. Whilst 
hesitating about his next move an aunt in Scotland 
died and left him an estate consisting of a large 
bleak house in Fifeshire and many thousand acres 
of land in varying stages of cultivation. He went 
up and inspected it, with a vague idea of "settling 
down." He spent one night there, and awoke to the 



SYSTOLE 139 

horror of his loneliness. It was winter-time and 
the place was buried in a thick white mist. Dripping 
cattle glared menacingly at him on the moors. The 
natives appeared frigid and unresponsive. 

"Oh, no, old boy," he said, as he drove back to 
the station; "you've still got a sense of humour 
Don't kill it." 

He eventually sold the whole estate for twenty 
thousand pounds. On his return to London the great 
opportunity arose. By a great deal of wrangling be- 
hind the scenes he obtained a fourteen years' lease 
of the Frivolity Theatre. He engaged some of the 
best artists of the day, librettists, composers, con- 
ductors and actors. He welded the ideas of a dozen 
people into a gigantic Pierrot entertainment, forti- 
fied by rather elaborate scenery and properties. He 
played the principal part himself, but he was care- 
ful to see that the rest of the company were not only 
good artists but that they had names. The thing 
began reasonably well, and, its success increased 
like a snowball being rolled down a hill. Within a 
year it was the one big attraction of the town. 
George worked hard and spent money lavishly. New 
material was constantly introduced, new ideas, 
songs, gags, scenes, properties purchased regard- 
less of cost. Surprisingly ignorant on matters of 
business and finance, he nevertheless had the knack 
of picking the right man for the job. He had clever 
managers, and secretaries and producers men who 
had been in it all their lives. 

The effect of this sudden leap to fame and suc- 
cess reacted upon him rather surprisingly. It made 
him swollen-headed and egotistical, but in a man- 
ner that it was easy to conceal. Generally speaking, 



140 HEARTBEAT 

it mellowed him. He became essentially calmer, 
more considerate of others, gentler and kinder. 
Everyone connected with the theatre adored him. 
Perhaps under the circumstances it was not diffi- 
cult to be generous and kind; but the quality of 
consideration for others is always rare. It was as 
though the emotional experiences of his life had 
disillusioned him in the search for personal grati- 
fication; he had become simply the medium for the 
entertainment of his fellow-man. He regarded him- 
self detachedly, but with a comfortable sense of 
complacency. Spiritually, perhaps, he had settled 
down. 

As the years went on this aspect of him became 
more accentuated. If the loneliness were there it 
was warmed by the glow of service and accomplish- 
ment. Emotional dreams were destroyed by the 
friction of physical realities. "Put it all by, old 
boy, put it all by." 

He was quite happy; too busy to be otherwise. 
Erotic desires were captive to the bow and spear 
of youth. Heigho ! a man who ceases to desire can- 
not be said to resist temptation. The star of his 
moral abstractions was becoming fixed. His pulses 
beat to the steady rhythm of ordered life. 

And then one day he beheld Barbara whom he 
had known for three years and he realised that he 
was seeing her for the first time. Her hair was 
ruffled, her eyes troubled, tears swimming in their 
mystic depths. She was unhappy, wanting some- 
thing terribly, hungry for the thing he had missed. 
The desire to touch her was almost irresistible la 
pauvre innocentel 



SYSTOLE 141 

XV. 

THE wedding was as quiet as it is possible for a 
theatrical wedding to be. That is to say, that it was 
understood that only intimate friends of the bride 
and bridegroom were to be invited, but many people 
got wind of it, and the little church at Kensington 
was fairly crowded when these two went through a 
service which neither of them believed in, and when 
Barbara promised to love, honour and obey one of 
the greatest comedians of his time. 

It took place in August, between the run of two 
productions, so that they were able to get away for 
two weeks ' honeymoon. All the company were there, 
and George was in very good spirits. Barbara was 
solemn and wide-eyed, and Isabel wept abundant- 
ly. They went to St. Mawes, the little fishing village 
lopposite Falmouth, and Barbara persuaded herself 
that she had met the idol of her dreams. She was, 
indeed, deliriously happy. The weather was glori- 
ous, in spite of the heat. They bathed, lolled, and 
basked in the sun. George seemed to revert sud- 
denly to boyhood. He was a child, whimsical, pas- 
sionate, rather sentimental. He could not bear her 
out of his sight. He anticipated all her desires, 
waited on her, smothered her with kindness, pres- 
ents, flowers, surprises. He sustained the fantastic 
mood that he had been in on that summer's after- 
noon when he found the three girls in the Stradlings' 
drawing-room and talked about the weird animals. 
He treated her alternately like a child and like a 
mother. That which he had vaguely yearned for 
all through life he found in the mere contact of her 
presence, the mere knowledge that she was there 
near him, needing him, relying on him. 



142 HEARTBEAT 

Oh, but he would be good and tender with her. In 
the darkness of the night some of the ugly memories 
of the past would torture him. Was it too late? 
Was he justified in doing this thing? He had wealth, 
position, a name; but was that any recompense for 
what she was giving him? He would listen to her 
gentle breathing, and place his fat face against the 
strands of her hair scattered between the two pil- 
lows. He loved the perfume of her hair ; it had the 
tang of vital essences. Maisie? Peggie? yes, but 
those other women! Oh, he would give Barbara 
everything; he would make up to her in passionate 
solicitude, tenderness, self-sacrifice. Would she in 
time give him that love he so avidly desired? Bar- 
bara was fond of him, but he had at present no phy- 
sical attraction for her. She was a little bewildered, 
frightened, almost disgusted and he had promised 
her that "love would come after." Well, why not? 
How horribly hot the nights were ! George was not 
his best in the hot weather. 

His mind ran on the arrangements he would make 
in town. He would be anxious not to take advan- 
tage of his position, not to trespass upon her free- 
dom unduly, not to worry her. They would have 
separate beds in the same room. She would like 
that better. She should have a dressing-room of 
her own, and a boudoir, and a maid. She should 
have the best parts, the best songs in the revues. 
And then, one day perhaps, she would have a child 
he passionately desired a child. It must be a girl, 
an infant Barbara. 

Barbara lived in a dreamland in which anticipa- 
tion was perhaps a more imminent factor than reali- 
sation. The sun shone on the dancing waters of the 



SYSTOLE 143 

bay. Fishing-boats crept lazily hither and thither. 
The people in this old-world village were friendly 
and good to look upon. On the other side of the 
Carrick Roads the low line of the Cornish hills 
forms a broad vista of enchanting beauty, in which 
the details were invisible and mysterious, like that 
bold vision of the life which was before her. 

George was a dear. She had done something big 
in marrying him, and her heart rejoiced. Back in 
London, she would be a person of importance a 
power. She would help people Isabel, that little 
girl-accompanist she had met on tour, odd, pathetic 
characters who had drifted across her life. She 
would look after George's house, make him happier 
and more comfortable. She had learnt profoundly 
how "to look after herself." On tour she had learnt 
how to cook, and sew, and mend. She knew the value 
of things, and how to economise, get the best out of 
the domestic equation. She should suggest that 
they have separate beds. George was restless, humid 
and noisy in bed perhaps one day she would be 
able to get a separate bedroom, and a dressing- 
room, and a maid. She would try and not interfere 
with him and his mode of life. She would not take 
advantage of her position as his wife. Then per- 
haps one day she would have a child. She passion- 
ately desired a child. It must be a boy, and his 
name well, there was time to discuss that later. 

You see, they agreed about practically everything. 
They had great fun writing to the lawyer about 
Barbara's sacrifice of her father's legacy. George 
had no objection at all. He was very amused, and 
said he would like her to write the letter herself, 



144 HEARTBEAT 

and let him see how cleverly she worded it. And 
this is what Barbara wrote : 

DEAR SIR, 

Re Thomas Powerscourt Estate. 

I beg to say that re the above I shall not require my allowance 
any longer, neither do I wish to have any say in the disposition of 
it. The money is just to go back into the pool. You can do what 
you like with it. 

Yours faithfully, 

BARBARA (POWERSCOURT). 

When George read this letter he slapped his leg 
and the tears rolled down his cheeks with laughter. 

"You're a perfect little lawyer," he cried. "Oh, 
dear! that's lovely! 'You can do what you like 
with it' and then the bracket round i Powerscourt ' ! 
Fancy, Fancy, come here and let me kiss you." 

They motored all the way back from Falmouth, 
stopping a night at Exeter, a night at Winchester, 
and a night at Oxford. It was all very thrilling and 
beautiful, but the most thrilling moment to Bar- 
bara was when the car glided over Westminister 
Bridge and she beheld the House of Commons, and 
Big Ben, and the dim profile of the Abbey, like of- 
ficial portents welcoming her to the city she meant 
to conquer. 

XVI. 

DUEING their absence the house in South Kensing- 
ton had been re-decorated, and to Barbara's delight 
she found a little white-panelled boudoir upholster- 
ed in powder-blue silk. It was for her very own. 

' ' Oh, George, how clever of you ! ' ' she exclaimed. 
"My favourite colour!" 

"Is it? Well, now, that's lucky," he answered. 
Then he suddenly gripped her from behind and, 



SYSTOLE 145 

pressing his cheek against hers, he whispered 
hoarsely : 

"Do you think I didn't know your favourite 
colour?'* 

She thrilled with delight as she yielded to his em- 
brace. He was a thoughtful dear. 

The efficient housekeeper, Mrs. Piddinghoe, was 
early in evidence. The house was spotless and in 
perfect order. Discreet maids appeared. Her things 
were unpacked and put away in drawers. Fresh 
flowers were in all the rooms. The mellow sound 
of a gong announced the prelude to a dinner, which 
she had not even had the onus of selecting. 

"I don't want you to be bothered about any of 
these domestic things, old girl," George explained. 
Well, she was not particularly interested in domes- 
tic things. In her father's house she had been un- 
conscious of them. On tour, and when living with 
Isabel, she had been brought into abrupt contact 
with them, and she had mastered them fairly suc- 
cessfully, but they did not give her any particular 
joy. She did not want to meddle in domestic things. 

If during the course of the next few days she 
sometimes felt a slight jar upon her proprietary 
sense, in the idea that she was living in an hotel, or 
rather that she was living in George's house as an 
honoured guest, she consoled herself with the re- 
flection that well, George liked to arrange things 
like that, and, after all, it was the theatre which 
mattered, her art, her career. 

Even if she had wished it, there was indeed little 
time to worry about domestic affairs. Rehearsals 
of the new revue started at once. They spent nearly 
all day at the theatre. George would lunch at the 



146 HEARTBEAT 

club with some important man, whilst she went out 
with some of the girls to a restaurant. Before they 
left in the morning and after they got home at night, 
the telephone would be ringing, all kinds of people 
calling with messages, and scores, and contracts, 
and estimates, and songs to be tried, and dialogue 
to be read over. So great was the rush and strain 
that she quickly realised how valuable was this 
smoothly working domestic machine. 

It was the action of this other machine the thea- 
trical one which absorbed her attention at the 
moment. As Mrs. George Champneys she inspired 
interest and respect from everyone; moreover all 
the members of the company liked her. But when 
the machine began to get into operation she found 
that Fancy Telling was not such an impressive prop- 
osition as she had imagined. George was nomin- 
ally the producer, but actually the producer was a 
young man with raven-black hair and eyes like an 
eagle, whose name was Julius Banstead. He was 
a live wire, and he positively frightened her. In- 
credibly quick and clever, he cared not a jot for any 
man or woman. He would even bully George, and 
George would take it like a lamb, knowing that Ban- 
stead was supreme at his job. The broad outline of 
the entertainment was but sketchily conceived. They 
had a mass of material which they welded together, 
ruthlessly discarding some, extemporising some. 
The thing was built up gradually. The stage seem- 
ed to be crowded by a bewildering collection of au- 
thors, composers, managers, engineers, choreo- 
graphers, to say nothing of actors, all trying to as- 
sert their own individual claims. And in the midst 
of it all Julius Banstead darted hither and thither, 



SYSTOLE 147 

exercising an autocratic sway. By his side was an 
assistant stage-manager with the book, and Ban- 
stead would frequently turn to him and say: 

"We'll have all that out, Thomson." 

There appeared to be no appeal; a stylographic 
pen destroyed the fair anticipations of more artistes 
than Fancy Telling. Her own part, which at first 
promised to be voluminous, was whittled down and 
whittled down. A scene in which she was to play 
a Dutch girl was cut out. He did not like her 
parody of a forlorn heroine in a costume play, and 
gave the part to another girl. He cut out her song 
about "An Afternoon in Tennessee," and reduced 
a skit concerned with an hotel lift, in which she 
played the part of a country girl up for the day, to 
a three-minutes turn, whereas it was originally in- 
tended to occupy twelve. When the final rehearsals 
were reached she found that this was all that was 
left to her, with the exception of two rather senti- 
mental songs, one of which concerned a Venetian 
night and the other a "Lullaby Among the Reeds." 

Eather disconsolately she appealed to George 
about this. The great man said: "Never mind, old 
girl; we'll work it up big later. Better to start 
slow. Banstead knows what's best." 

His own part had expanded rather than dimin- 
ished. But then George was the show. The people 
paid to come and see George, and they expected him 
to be on the stage nearly all the time. Banstead 
knew what was best. 

Another disappointment was that not by any 
means could she persuade George or Banstead to 
engage Isabel. Her old friend was now well again, 
but out of work and very hard up. The only thing 
Barbara succeeded in doing was to get money out of 



148 HEARTBEAT 

George to send her. She sent her fifty pounds. 
When she spoke to George about engaging her he 
said: 

"It's all fixed up, old girl. We'll try another 
time." 

Banstead said: 

" Isabel Weare? No, she's slow in the uptake. 
Mrs. Champneys. Not enough pep for this show." 

She realised the truth of this. The whole thing 
was a wonderful sample of "pep." There were no 
waste spaces or holes. Nothing was sacrificed to 
sentimentality of association. Everything was fined 
down, worked at, polished till there was not a phrase 
or a note that would not tell. She sometimes won- 
dered whether she herself was not the only "sacri- 
fice to sentimentality of association." Certainly if 
she had not been George's wife she would not have 
secured this part. 

The position reminded her of that day when she 
had met her father being smuggled off to the House 
of Commons, and when she tried to stop him, and 
she had felt that she was opposing her will to the 
will of vast blocks of interests. George and Ban- 
stead were somewhat the same. They represented 
a tradition, a machine. They were the agents of a 
stern popular demand. 

She felt a little envious of the other three girls, 
Rosie Ventnor, Polly Ravasol and Gine Sterne. 
They were so finished, so self-confident, so profes- 
sional. Between this standard of entertainment 
and the tours she had been used to there was a great 
gulf fixed. Well, there it was. She would make the 
best of her small chances, and perhaps one day she 
would excel them all. It was something to be on at 



SYSTOLE 149 

a leading London show and the wife of a leading 
London showman. 

One Sunday night George took her to the Savoy 
to supper. She tasted for the first time the glamour 
of publicity. Opulent-looking gentlemen and gorge- 
ously dressed girls glanced at their table and whis- 
pered. She knew what they were saying : 

"That's George Champneys. And that's Fancy 
Telling, the young actress he has just married." 

They drank champagne and her eyes sparkled with 
the gaiety of this new adventure. When they had 
reached the Peche Melba stage a tall, well-dressed 
societyish girl came up to their table and said : 

"Excuse me, isn't it Barbara?" 

Barbara looked hard at her and exclaimed: 

' * Why, it 's Cicely ! Oh, Cicely, what ages ! How 
are you, darling?" 

Dear her ! Cicely had altered. A formal, slightly 
supercilious smile played round the corners of her 
pretty mouth. She held out her hand primly, as 
though afraid that Barbara might embrace her. 

"Yes, it's Cicely, Barbara." 

"Oh, how ripping! This is my husband George 
Champneys. Oh, of course you know him ! This is 
Cicely Stradling, George. Don't you remember I We 
met at her house." 

The two shooks hands. George had forgotten her, 
and Cicely said quickly: 

"I'm here with my husband, too Colonel Hus- 
kisson. We are sitting over by the wall. Shall we 
have coffee together, and then we can exchange 
news?" 

The husbands were formally introduced and they 
all took coffee together. 



150 HEARTBEAT 

Yes, Cicely had changed. The lines about her 
mouth and eyes had hardened. She spoke with a 
slight drawl. Gone was all the girlish abandonment 
of that summer day. Her husband was a thin, sun- 
burnt man with a grey moustache ; he must have been 
a good ten or fifteen years older than Cicely. He 
appeared a little disconcerted at meeting the large 
comedian a little uncertain as to whether it was 
quite the thing to be seen in the company of theatri- 
cal people. Barbara eagerly pumped her freind for 
news. 

"Where is Jean, Cicely!" 

"Oh, Jean is married, too, my dear. She is in In- 
dia. Her husband is a Government assessor. He 
travels a good deal; Jean lives mostly at Simla." 

"Is she happy!" 

"Oh, yes, she likes the life. She gets crowds 
of parties, and picnics, and riding." 

Jean ! jolly little chubby-faced Jean ! What a long 
way off she seemed ! not only physically, but what 
sort of life was this : parties and picnics and riding 
in Anglo-Indian society? She had lost them both, 
these two girls. In our youth we dream of perpetual 
friendships ; and then we drift apart, and when we 
meet again there lies between us the heavy barrier 
of unfamiliar experiences. It sounded so jolly 
parties and picnics and riding but who knew what 
tragedy might lie behind it? And Cicely, with her 
formal graciousness and her perfectly-coiffured hair 
no, she didn't look happy. Only she, Barbara, was 
happy. She was already a few rungs up the ladder 
of fame. She was married to a dear and famous 
man. She was rich and popular, and living in a 
world congenial to her. This society life inhabited 
by Jean and Cicely was alien, frigid and unattractive. 



SYSTOLE 151 

How they had drifted apart, indeed! The cham- 
pagne had gone a little to her head, and she sparkled 
and chatted to Cicely, telling her many details of 
her new life, of the thrill of experience, of the fame 
and generosity of her husband. Two young men 
at the next table were devouring her with their eyes, 
and their attention added an elfish glamour to the 
narrative of triumph. 

It was getting late when Cicely suddenly re- 
marked : 

"Sad about poor Billy Hamaton, wasn't it?" 

Barbara felt a strange contraction of her heart. 
So absorbed had she been in the record of her vital 
experiences she had not even talked about Billy. 
She had forgotten Billy and the days when they 
four were all children together. And here was Cicely 
saying in the same chilling voice she employed for 
every remark: "Sad about poor Billy Hamaton." 
What did she mean? Barbara puckered her brows 
and could not frame the question. 

Cicely continued in the same tones: 

' ' Haven 't you heard ? He died three months ago. ' > 

"What?" 

She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry out to 
all these well-dressed people. 

"Leave off eating, and drinking, and flirting; oh, 
leave off ! Billy is dead he died three months ago, 
and I was the cause of his death. And I never even 
asked about him. I was cruel and utterly callous. 
If the branch of that tree had not broken he would 
now be my husband not George. I can see his 
young, jolly, freckled face right up in the leaves 
against the sky, his brown hair all awry. I can hear 
his laughing voice: 'Come on, then, my flibbertigib- 



152 HEARTBEAT 

bet. ' And then he sat by my side on the branch, and 
there seemed to be no earth beneath, only this green 
fairway leading to the heavens, and he said, 'I love 
you, Barbara. ' And then . . . and then. . . . Oh, 
God!" 

She looked around stonily at the festive scene. 
One of the young men at the next table openly smiled 
at her, challenging her with his eyes. George was 
smoking a cigar, and saying in his deep actor's 
voice : 

1 'I tell you where you can get the best Napoleon 
brandy in the world at Fleuret's. It's in a little 
street just off the Faubourg St. Honore; I can't re- 
member the name. I used to know old Fleuret very 
well. He won't part with it unless he likes your 
face, and then he charges twelve francs for a 
nip " 

She rose and touched his shoulder. 

' 'We must be going, George. I want to go." 

He regarded her sleepily. 

"All right, old girl. We won't be five minutes." 

She shrank back in her chair, her impulses held 
in check by the heavy pressure of her environment. 

XVII. 

THE revue was called " Black and White" a title 
justified (the programme explained) by the connec- 
tion of the costumes of the Pierrot troupe with the 
spirit of the age and it proved to be one of the 
most successful of the Frivolity productions. With 
various additions, excisions and slight alterations it 
ran for a year. Barbara's two songs went better than 
she had expected, and "The Lullaby Among the 
Reeds "was encored nightly, and made its appearance 



SYSTOLE 153 

on barrel organs and in the vocal exploits of ambi- 
tious young ladies in suburban drawing-rooms. She 
sang both songs extremely well, and in an alluring 
black-and-white silk frock and ruffles she made a 
figure not unworthy of this distinguished group. She 
was disappointed that nearly all the Press reviews 
spoke only of George and Rosie Ventnor and the 
droll Mr. Ebbway, and that the best notice of herself 
only said : 

"A song likely to catch on is 'The Lullaby Among 
the Reeds.' It was charmingly rendered by Miss 
Fancy Telling (now Mrs. George Champneys), who 
promises to be a useful addition to the clever com- 
pany. ' ' 

Nevertheless she felt that on the whole she had 
no cause for complaint. She had been tested and not 
found wanting. All the company were charming to 
her. George was so excited on the first night that he 
kissed her every time she came off, and, not to seem 
too partial, he kissed all the other girls at least 
once. The novelty of this first-night excitement 
and enthusiasm thrilled her. But perhaps her proud- 
est moment was when Mr. Banstead, the great Julius 
Banstead himself, came up afterwards and, gripping 
her hand, said: 

4 'Fine, Miss Telling! Fine! You did splendidly. 

And in the days that followed her cup of happi- 
ness was very full. The novelty of the situation 
kept her awake at night with nervous excitement. 
For a time rehearsals were over, and she had the 
leisure to put her world in order, to rearrange her 
rooms to buy additional furniture, and to go shop- 
ping in George's new car. And then the French 
maid arrived Was there ever anything so luxun- 



154 HEARTBEAT 

ous as a maid all to oneself I And being French 
added a queer piquancy to the luxury. Oh, the great 
day when Isabel came to tea in the powder-blue 
boudoir! And Barbara in a wonderful rest gown 
of a similar colour presided over a glittering silver 
tray. And the dark-eyed, pretty Annette, smartly 
attired in fawn and white, darted in at her bidding, 
and at every request exclaimed : 

"Mais oui, madame." " Par fait ement, madame." 
"Jele fais tout de suite, madame." 

Barbara hardly knew any French, but to be ad- 
dressed like that raised her spirits heavenwards. 
And then the cosy chat with Isabel, recounting old 
times, discussing mutual friends, a dash of scandal, 
Barbara unable to resist a boast or two about her 
furs and their cost, her Sheraton writing table, the 
dinner at the Savoy, the run in the car last Sunday 
down to Burford Bridge, and the lunch at the inn; 
George's genius, what the Press said of him, how the 
company loved him, the parts she was going to play 
in the future. 

Poor Isabel! She was still pretty and adorable. 
Certainly adorable, perhaps not quite so pretty as 
she had been; the little wrinkles were creeping 
round her eyes, her figure becoming a little sloppier, 
her movements slower. Well-dressed, of course, in 
a "managed" kind of way. She looked worried. A 
woman who relies on her talents, on her beauty, on 
her body, can't help worrying sometimes. Barbara 
was still helping her with money; there was vague 
talk of a tour in two months' time. She examined 
all Barbara's things with interest, and loyally tried 
not to display jealousy. 

"Does George make you an allowance?" she asked 
at one point. Barbara laughed. 



SYSTOLE 155 

"An allowance! Oh, no. Why should he? He 
gives me everything I want. I just order things, and 
the account is sent in to him. He always gives me 
any money I want. He has often said that every- 
thing of his is equally mine. ' ' 

"H'm, that's all very well," commented Isabel. 
"Don't you be a fool. You stick out for a settle- 
ment. He'd give it to you at the moment; later on 
well, you never know. Don't you see, while he 
talks like that and treats you like that, he's got a 
hold over you all the time?" 

"Oh, but, Isabel jdarling George He would 
never dream ... I couldn't think of asking any- 
thing like that. It sounds so mercenary, so distrust- 
ful." 

Isabel shook her head. 

"I know it sounds so, but you haven't been round 
so many corners as I have. You haven't had so 
many pals married as I have. You never know. 
There was Meggie Farino married Reuben Jaikes 
like a couple of turtle-doves they were and then 
something went wrong one day. Meggie got mixed 
up with a boy at the Grand Hotel at Dieppe. Eeuben 
had never made a settlement, and he chucked her 
out without a penny. 

Barbara was highly amused. 

"Then it's me you don't trust, Isabel, not 
George!" 

"You never know, I say. It's always as well to 
keep on the safe side in a theatrical marriage. Look 
at Polly Patterson at the Gaiety, who got spliced 
with Lord Underwick. She got a settlement of fifty 
thousand quid, and when he went fooling round with 
that little Spanish dancer, after they'd been married 



156 HEARTBEAT 

a year, she just snapped her fingers at him. What 
did she care? She'd got the title and fifty thou- 
sand." 

"You've got a nasty cynical mind, Isabel; I refuse 
to discuss the matter with you. Have another crum- 
pet." 

Barbara was not at all affected by Isabel's sinis- 
ter warnings. Nothing could be securer or more 
roseate than her lot. As the months went by she ad- 
justed herself more completely to her position. The 
physical aspect of marriage ceased to have any ter- 
rors for her. This was partly due to the greater 
freedom and the greater consideration George al- 
lowed her. His devotion increased. Although his 
time was so occupied he snatched every moment that 
could be spared to pass in her company. He ap- 
peared never so happy as when they were alone. 
He trusted her implicitly, and she gradually became 
to him more the mother than the child. His health 
was not always of the best, and at times when he 
became sorry for himself he loved to have her fuss- 
ing over him. His large eyes would become moist 
with sentimental adoration. He would regard her 
pathetically, like a large dog regarding an intangible 
mistress. During the stress of his profession he was 
a little inclined to overlook her he seldom con- 
sulted her about the details of his productions, and 
even then in a rather preoccupied manner but when 
it was over and they were alone in the cosy security 
of their bedroom, and he was tired and worn out 
with the strain and triumph of the day, he would 
hungrily bury his face in her bosom and murmur 
endearments and appeals. 

At such moments her heart would bleed for him, 



SYSTOLE 157 

and she would suppress those little physical aver- 
sions to the contact of his embrace. In the morning 
there would always be about him a slight tang of 
yesterday's whisky and this morning's tobacco; in 
the evening the aroma of whisky dominated every- 
thing. George was not a drunkard, but for twenty 
years he had been in the habit of steadily imbibing, 
and he could not do without it. He seldom drank 
anything in the daytime, but he would have a whisky 
and soda before the show at night, another halfway 
through, and then several nightcaps when it was 
over. This was the one serious trouble she had to 
cope with. She detested the taste and smell of 
whisky. On one or two occasions she protested, but 
he was so upset by her reproval that she decided to 
say no more. She was astute enough to know that 
it was probably an ingrained habit, and that if he 
promised to give it up he would most likely break 
his promise. 

"I suppose I must be thankful," she thought, 
* ' that he never drinks too much. ' ' 

She eventually found a partial and not very satis- 
factory solution in having a tiny drop herself after 
the show. The taste was not so bad as the smell, and 
when she had had some she did not notice George 
so much. 

As time went on and her ambitions were held in 
leash, she became vaguely conscious of a little slack- 
ening of moral fibre. It was a life of ease, and lux- 
ury, facile success, constant flattery and accumulat- 
ing temptations. It was so easy and pleasant to lie 
in bed in the morning till twelve o'clock, reading a 
novel and smoking cigarettes, whilst the well-ordered 
household functioned below; and then to be dressed 



158 HEARTBEAT 

and coaxed and flattered by Annette ; to drive down 
town and lunch with friends at a club she had joined 
in St. James ' Square ; afterwards to do a little shop- 
ping and join a tea party at Eosie Ventnor's flat, 
and then back home for a light dinner before the 
theatre. It was so cosy and jolly in her own well- 
upholstered dressing room at the theatre, and the 
other girls would come in and laugh and joke and 
tell "the very latest." And then the show, the con- 
sciousness of singing to a packed house and knowing 
that you have "got them." Dim, mysterious faces 
above shirt fronts, their eyes glued upon her. The 
applause, the thrill, the easy intimacy of her fellow 
artists, where kisses meant little more than benedic- 
tions ; and always the excitement of new friends, new 
faces, new people, movement and life. Afterwards 
home, the fire crackling in the oak-panelled dining- 
room ; sandwiches, a siphon and tanalus on the table. 
George, sleepily communicative, still a little dazed 
by success. The bedroom, another fire glowing, rose 
coloured electric light shades, the two beds with the 
corners turned down, her creamy nightdress and 
George's pyjamas spread out invitingly. George, 
humid and adoring, asking to be mothered. An easy, 
luxurious, rather demoralizing life. 

xvni. 

"BLACK AND WHITE" ran for a year, and was quickly 
followed by another revue called "Fool's Cap." 
This new revue was to be Barbara's great chance. 
Eosie Ventnor was leaving, and she was to take her 
place. She arrived at the first rehearsals in a state 
of trepidation. Julius Banstead was again in charge. 



SYSTOLE 159 

At first everything seemed to promise auspicously. 
Her songs and she had a number were safe and 
tuneful. The parodies and skits were roughed out, 
and she had a principal part in nearly all of them. 
She rather fancied herself in the skits : little ideas, 
intonations, inflexions, and gestures occurred to her 
in bed and whilst walking along the street. But as 
the rehearsals progressed Mr. Banstead began to 
pull her up, and drill her at every line. Anyone who 
has not experienced it can have no idea of the degree 
of wretchedness to which a producer can reduce an 
actor or actress in this way. At first she struggled 
gamely, and tried to do exactly as he told her. Then 
she protested; but Julius Banstead was not a man 
you could argue with. He reduced her to tears, and 
one day there was a scene. It suddenly flashed 
through her mind that after all this was George's 
theatre; he had said that everything of his was 
equally hers. Banstead was only an employe. She 
turned on him angrily : 

"I wish you'd let me do it my own way, Mr. Ban- 
stead. You don't know everything." 

And Banstead quickly replied : 

"My dear girl, it's my job to see that you do it 
right." 

"I can't do it right if you keep on stopping me. 
I have my own ideas about it, thank you." 

Then the tears started to her eyes. Banstead 
shrugged his shoulders and turned appealingly to 
George. The rest of the company shuffled and looked 
uncomfortable. George scratched his ear and said : 

"Well, well, don't let's have any upset." 

* ' Don 't worry, Fancy. We '11 try again this after- 



160 HEARTBEAT 

She knew she had made a fool of heraelf . All the 
company and the stage hands and the composer and 
the librettist were looking on. The story would get 
around. Of course George couldn't openly take her 
side in a case like this ; besides, he probably agreed 
with Banstead. Everybody agreed with Banstead; 
his position was impregnable. If she went to ex- 
tremes she knew she could force George to get rid 
of Banstead. And then suppose the revue failed? 
What kind of fool would she look? It would be the 
talk of the town. Many well-known actors damage 
their careers by marrying incompetent wives who in- 
sist on playing leads. Oh, yes, it was quite true, she 
supposed, she was incompetent. And she had builded 
all her hopes on this revue. It was to be the turn- 
ing point in her career. She dashed out of the thea- 
tre and drove home. In the sanctity of her blue 
boudoir she had a good cry. 

Two hours later came George, looking distressed 
and flustered. He stood in the middle of the room, 
like a ruffled bear facing an unknown situation. He 
thrust out his large hands helplessly. 

"I say, Fancy, old darling, I'm awful sorry. I'd 
no idea you 'd let Bansf ead upset you like that. Don 't 
you let him worry you. "We'll make it all right. ' ' 

Barbara only cried the* more, and he snuggled 
his face against her damp cheek and mumbled con- 
solations. Getting no response, he cried out desper- 
ately : 

''Don't do it, old girl. I can't stand it. We'll get 
rid of the beast." 

Then she got her voice at last. 

"No, no, no, it's not that. You don't understand. 
You can't get rid of him. It's because I know he 



SYSTOLE 161 

was right that I'm making a fool of myself. I 
thought I could act, and I can't. It's all right, 
George dear, don't worry; I'll be all right soon." 

"Sensible little darling," thought George. Out 
loud he said: 

"Of course you can act. What nonsense! There 
are only one or two points, Banstead thinks, and so 
does Paisley and some of the others one or two 
points could be improved. It's difficult for me. I 
don't know what to do about it." 

"I know what to do. I'll try once more, and if 
it's no good you must get Rosie Ventnor back." 

Well, was there ever such a reasonable, sensible 
little angel? Was there ever a child so fascinating 
in its wrath? He hugged her tight and buried his 
face in her hair. 

"Fancy, you know I love you, darling? I'll do 
anything anything you ask me. ' ' 

Was there ever a large man so gentle and so plia- 
ble? He coaxed her into a good humour and in 
half-an-hour's time she was laughing. 

She attended the rehearsal the next day and tried 
again; but the rehearsal had not been in progress 
long before she realised that the great Banstead had 
altered his tactics. He was going through a process 
of freezing her out. He did not pull her up once; 
he just left her alone. He checked the others, but 
she was ignored. She went through the part like 
an unattached automaton; she had no criterion of its 
worth. Nevertheless, as time went on she began to 
be conscious of the telepathic waves of failure. In 
scenes that were meant to be comic no response 
came back from her fellow artistes not even 
George. In being frozen out she was freezing the 



162 HEARTBEAT 

others out. The thing went flat ; George looked be- 
wildered, the others uncomfortable; and Banstead 
chillingly indifferent. 

At the end of the rehearsal she bit her lip and 
walked up to Banstead and George, who were talk- 
ing together. She thrust out the typescript of her 
part and said: 

"I can't do this part; I've no sense of humour. 
You must get someone else." 

Banstead almost snatched the part, but he looked 
a little contrite and surprised. George stared at her 
pleadingly. What was he to do? The masterful 
Banstead was the first to speak. He took her arm. 

"My dear Mrs. Champneys, I'm afraid I've been 
rude to you. Please understand there was nothing 
personal meant, anyway. We shouldn't get any- 
where if we weren't candid in this profession. Quite 
honestly, I think you're wise. The part wants a 
more experienced comedienne. But look here, my 
dear, we '11 fix you up with a good singing part. You 
shall have a good show, I promise you. ' ' 

Two days later Rosie Ventnor was back, rehears- 
ing the lead. Barbara continued to sing coon songs 
and lullabies and to join in the choruses. She for- 
gave her judges, but the incident affected her detri- 
mentally. It was the first complete disillusionment 
she had experienced. The rich banquet was prepared 
for her and she could not eat it. Never, never, never 
would she be a great star. She had talent but not 
genius ; she lacked just that elusive something which 
spells it. She sang charmingly indeed, almost too 
charmingly and subtly for a production like "Fool's 
Cap"; at the same time she had not the range of 
voice nor the musical intelligence requisite for grand 
opera. She fell between the two stools. She real- 



SYSTOLE 163 

ised all this very quickly, and with an alert, protec- 
tive instinct she decided how to act. She must keep 
her grip on George. As Fancy Telling she was of 
no account; as Mrs. George Champneys she was a 
person to look up to and respect. It was she who 
persuaded him to wire for Rosie Ventnor; it was she 
who took the rebuff philosophically. George was so 
upset at the time he seemed inclined to lose his head. 
Oh, yes, she was a wise, sensible, philosophical little 
thing. 

But when the reaction came it found her drifting 
down the old channels of easy living. If the Muses 
would not reward her with bay leaves she would 
seek satisfaction elsewhere in the vineyards of 
Bacchus, for instance, or in the groves of Arcadia, 
listening to the pipes of Pan. In the months that 
followed she ministered to the wants of George. She 
was affectionate and tender, but their lives began to 
be lived apart. She discovered new aspects of him. 
His preoccupations were overwhelming, his conser- 
vatism impregnable. It was like being married to 
' a confirmed bachelor. His adoration had certain de- 
fined limits. He wanted her hungrily at special mo- 
ments, but for his work-a-day life he preferred the 
society of men. In spite of his sentimental protesta- 
tions, he was never able to conceal a kind of indo- 
lent contempt for her mentality. He lived in a 
groove, a large, cultivated, well-ordered groove. The 
fact that she had been admitted into it didn't make 
it any less a groove. He had passed the age when 
he could convert it into a sunlit meadow. In their 
association the comedian appeared a pathetic, al- 
onost a tragic figure, always appealing to her for the 
crumbs of passion she never felt disposed to give. 



164 HEARTBEAT 

And so they gradually began to live their own 
lives. Frequently they would not meet all day. 
George would be working, rehearsing, lunching at 
his club, talking to the innumerable ' ' old boys ' ' who 
pass their lives round about Covent Garden and Gar- 
rick Street. And Barbara built up her circle of 
friends, too, mostly women, but she was not above 
mixing with the other sex also, and even lunching 
or teaing alone with one of the young "boys" so 
frequently referred to by Isabel. George gave her 
a small car of her own, and she flitted hither and 
thither, buying expensive frocks and fal-lals, dining 
at expensive restaurants and drinking expensive 
wines. And by these means she fortified herself 
against his caresses and endearments. He begrudged 
her nothing. He demanded nothing more from her 
only that she should not pity him. He even con- 
sented eventually to separate bedrooms. 

XTX. 

THE whispers of Eros were always about her ears, 
neither could she be unmindful of Isabel's prophetic 
warning : 

"If you've ever been kissed properly it gets into 
your blood, and you can't do without it." 

Within three months after the production of 
"Fool's Cap" she had been kissed twice "prop- 
ertly, ' ' and though in neither case were the wells of 
her inner being profoundly stirred, the experience 
left upon her the imprint of a bitter-sweet exultation. 

The first occasion was with the great Julius Ban- 
stead himself. In the same way that George sud- 
denly discovered her after knowing her for years, 
she became to Julius an identical obsession. He ob- 



SYSTOLE 165 

served her one day in the wings, and in the depths 
of those masterful, restless eyes there flashed an in- 
solent, savage desire. She was aware of him ever 
after that, following her with his eyes, prowling in 
her wake. She had no great love for Julius Ban- 
stead. She feared and almost hated him. And yet 
her heart beat flurriedly to know that the strong 
man desired her. It was insolent and characteris- 
tic of him to make love to the wife of his employer, 
to the wife of his great friend, to a girl he had 
been rude to. He spoke to her very little, but when 
near her he hummed under his breath phrases of im- 
passioned song. He mesmerized her with his fierce 
assumption of indiscretion. In spite of her dislike 
she succumbed to the luxuriant image of his mastery. 
She would like this man to hurt her, to throw her 
on the floor and kick her. 

She thrust the strange temptation back. She dis- 
missed it altogether when he was not present, but 
when he came near her she was disturbingly con- 
scious of him without looking at him. 

Arriving at the theatre early one evening she met 
him going in. He said : 

' ' Come up to my room for a moment. I want to 
show you something which may interest you." 

She was fully conscious of the insolence of the 
command and the something which might interest 
her being a blind. The penetration of his glance 
had only one meaning which should have lashed her 
to a fury of revolt ; and yet without a word she fol- 
lowed him to a room upstairs where the offices were 
situated. He walked ahead, and her eyes were 
glued upon the movement of that thick forceful back. 
She entered the room after him, and he shut the 



166 HEARTBEAT 

door and threw his hat on to a peg. She stood per- 
fectly immobile in front of a gas stove, which was 
popping irritably. Without a word he came up and 
took her in his arms. She knew all this was going to 
happen before it did; her volitions were experi- 
menting. She found herself enveloped in a fury of 
desires. She felt the thrust of his vibrant body as 
he crushed her to him, the lips upon her cheek and 
eyes ; then suddenly his tongue between her lips. It 
was awful. She should have screamed and kicked, 
and not hung idly there, with closed eyes and a sur- 
rendered will. Instead of that, for some timeless 
period she was lost in a world of passionate re- 
sponse. When she escaped from that raging eternity 
she should have struck him and fled from the room. 
Instead of that she said in a drugged voice : 

"Don't be a fool, Julius." 

Banstead was not the man to fritter away an op- 
portunity. He had succeeded already far beyond his 
wildest hopes. His voice came huskily and plead- 
ingly: 

" Darling, will you? will you?" 

"Will I what!" 

"It's you that's being a fool now. You know you 
know. Fancy darling, I love you. I want you. 
Will you?" 

Oh, no, Mr. Banstead, the game can be carried too 
far. She pushed him away, rearranged her hair and, 
looking down at the stove, remarked : 

"Your gas stove wants regulating." 

"Damn the gas stove !" 

She raised her voice to a note of passion for the 
first time : 

"I hate that popping noise. It gets on my 
nerves!" 



SYSTOLE 167 

With a growl Julius bent down to readjust the 
screw. Like a flash she was at the door and through 
it. She never went into Julius Banstead's room 
again ; neither did she ever report her experience to 
George or to any of her girl friends. When people 
afterwards asked her what she thought of him she 
said: 

' ' Julius ? Oh, he 's a queer fish. ' ' 
Sometimes at night she would lie with head on 
pillow, her body curled up like a little ball, and 
reflect : 

"Crikey! George never kissed me like that!" 
The second occasion was an aristocratic diver- 
sion. It occurred with the son of a lord. Geoffrey 
Vallance was the son of Lord Tremayne. He was 
a slim, elegant boy, just down from Oxford, with 
round Plantagenet eyes and an expression which 
clearly betokened: "For goodness' sake, don't say 
anything serious!" 

She met him at a luncheon-party at Rosie Vent- 
nor's, and he informed her within the space of the 
first five minutes that he had been to "Fool's Cap" 
twenty-three times, that he thought she was devil- 
ish clever and pretty, that he thought the whole 
show was top-hole, that George was a scream, that 
Rosie was topping, that all the girls in it were sim- 
ply ripping, that his father wanted him to read for 
the Bar not much! The only bar he aspired to 
was the Trocadero ! Ha, ha, ha ! He told her that he 
liked all shell-fish except mussels, and that he never 
drank port after champagne. He played games, 
but they bored him. He only did it to keep fit. He 
liked squash rackets best, because it was so concen- 
trated. "You sweat like a pig in five minutes." 



168 HEARTBEAT 

The elegance of his outward] and visible form 
was not enriched by any particular spark of inner 
and spiritual grace, and yet there was about him 
something rather charming. Perhaps; because he 
was so young and fresh, so redolent of a world 
novel to her, so different from even High Barren. 
She longed to tell him that her father was the great 
Thomas Powerscourt, the Chancellor, just to see 
what the effect would be upon him. But she wisely 
forbore and exchanged inanities instead. When he 
offered to drive her down to Pangbourne in his side- 
car on the following Sunday she accepted. They 
lunched at an hotel, and afterwards went on the 
river. He behaved quite nicely, and delivered her 
safely to her door at Kensington in time for dinner. 

Afterwards they met quite frequently, and flirted 
in a childish, playful manner. Sometimes she re- 
flected: "It must be rather nice to be married to 
someone young and fresh like that. He thinks he's 
a gay dog, but he really knows nothing." 

The kiss was the direct result of drinking too 
much wine. They had lunched together alone at 
the house; George was up west, as usual. Some 
rather heavy Burgundy had been served, and Bar- 
bara realised that it had suddenly gone to her head. 
The interplay of fustian emotions became acceler- 
ated. His face appeared lighted up with an added 
glow. He was really rather good-looking; he was 
really rather a dear. She could see the line of firm 
white little teeth between his red lips as he laughed. 
His face had the milky pinkness of a baby's ; all eag- 
erness and expectancy. Upon his upper lip was a 
thin down of golden hair. Abruptly she thought : 

"I'm going to kiss this boy." 



SYSTOLE 169 

A laggard reflection tempered her resolution. 
"It can't make the slightest difference to George." 

She stood up and said: 

"Come and see my powder-blue room." 

The consciousness of bespoken guilt merely quick- 
ened her impulse. What did it matter? Even the 
form of that mistress of discretion, Annette, van- 
ishing down dim corridors, did nothing to distract 
her movements. Again she stood immobile before 
a fire, which in this case was not lighted, for the 
day was hot. He approached her from behind. 
"Let him kiss me; what does it matter? One can 
kiss better standing up." 

He was more deliberate in his methods than Julius 
had been. He took her hand and pressed it gently. 
Then he doubled it up in his and kissed it. After 
pausing, as though expecting a rebuff, he put his 
arm around her waist. The pressure increased ; he 
moved nearer and kissed the back of her neck, her 
ear, her cheek. Then she slowly turned and held 
him from her, looking deeply into his eyes. With 
a sudden firm movement she raised her arm and, 
placing it round his neck, she drew his lips to hers. 
They kissed properly, with the blood-inflamed, wine- 
inflamed, Aphrodisiac intensity which only youth 
experiences when it first breaks through the barrier 
of physical reserve. When it was over she could 
just see his flushed, almost bewildered face. He 
was trembling. She hid her eyes with a handker- 
chief, and said: 

"Damn that Burgundy! It's gone to my head." 
He laughed self-consciously, and tried to approach 
her again, but she warded him off: 
"Don't be a fool, Geoffrey." 



170 HEARTBEAT 

It was obvious that the boy was in a dilemma. 
The thing seemed so confoundedly serious, don't 
you know. He had probably never been kissed so 
seriously before, and the inexperience almost <un- 
nerved him. He desired amusement, but he didn't 
want to be a cad, and all that kind of thing, old 
girl. She could see him thinking that. Yes, he was 
rather a dear, and she had made him kiss her. He 
again laughed nervously, in the manner of a man 
who has committed an awful crime. 

"You must go now, Geoff," she said. 

He was contrition itself, but devoured by dis- 
appointment. Thank God he said nothing about 
loving her; neither did he make overt suggestions. 
There was something of the gentleman about him in 
spite of his devotion to inanities. There was some- 
thing of the gentleman about him when he kissed 
her hand at the door, with a gesture which implied : 

"Please don't think I have any disrespect for 
you on account of this. I assure you, it was all my 
fault, and all that sort of thing, don't you know." 

She met Geoffrey Vallance on many future oc- 
casions after that, but never alone. The kiss was 
not repeated. After these two experiences she with- 
drew a little within herself, like a cat licking its 
wounds after battle, conscious thatl the wounds 
hurt, but fully alive to the fact that they are not in- 
curable. 

XX. 

BABBAJU. had been married nearly three years. 
"Fool's Cap" had been replaced by a new revue 
called "Laugh and Grow Fat'V-in which she still 
sustained an inconspicuous part when a disrup- 



SYSTOLE 171 

tion came to disturb the equanimity of the well- 
ordered house in Kensington. The affair concerned 
the competent Mrs. Piddinghoe. 

In the luxury of being free from domestic worries 
Barbara had devoted herself to a life of comfort- 
able ease and a ladylike disregard of the claims of 
household duties. But as time went on, and the 
theatre demanded less attention, she began to think 
more about her home. She began to take more in- 
terest in the details of its working. One afternoon 
she happened to be in one of the spare bedrooms at 
the back, which overlooked the passage leading to 
the tradesmen's entrance, and, looking out, she saw 
a boy standing at the back door with a large basket. 
She naturally imagined that he was delivering some 
goods. In an idle mood she watched him. Mrs. 
Piddinghoe appeared, and they whispered together. 
She retired, and in a few moments returned with a 
lot of parcels under her arm. They were wrapped 
up in newspapers, but sticking out of one she could 
distinctly see the frill of a ham. 

''That's very queer," she thought. "I suppose 
Mrs. Piddinghoe is sending some things back." 

And then suspicion began to work. She had never 
liked Mrs. Piddinghoe. She was altogether too 
plausible, too perfect, and too efficient. 

For a moment an impulse came to the mistress 
of the house to go down and make direct enquiries 
as to the reason why this young man was taking 
these things away, and then a sense of caution pre- 
vailed. She would be further on the watch. A few 
days later she observed the same operation. She 
waited then till the following Saturday morning, 
when Mr. Toller, the secretary, was in the habit of 



172 HEARTBEAT 

making the weekly settlement with Mrs. Pidding- 
hoe. When this was completed she went in to him 
and said: 

"Excuse me, Mr. Toller, would you mind telling 
me what our household expenses came to last week? 
I should be interested to know." 

Samuel Toller looked very surprised, but he 
smiled pleasantly and said: 

"Certainly, Mrs. Champneys." He undid an 
attache-case and took out some papers. "Here we 
are. Fourteen pounds seven and threepence." 

"What!" 

"That's the amount, Mrs. Champneys. I have 
the details here." 

Barbara; glanced at the figures and the items. 
Then she remarked quietly: 

"I was home to lunch twice last week and George 
once. I dined here three times, and I think George 
did three times. On Thursday we had four people to 
lunch; there's been no more entertaining. There are 
four servants. Doesn't it strike you as being 
rather a lot?" 

Toller blushed. He had often thought so him- 
self, but it was not his business to enquire. He was 
a busy man, and the business of of the theatre oc- 
cupied most of his time. He said: 

"Is that so? I didn't know. I thought you enter- 
tained a lot. Mrs. Piddinghoe said you did." 

"Can you tell me is Mrs. Piddinghoe married?" 

"Yes. She has a husband and a grown-up son. 
I think they keep a little shop somewhere." Then 
he added lamely: "She's very fond of George I 
mean Mr. Champneys. She's been with him ten 
years." 



SYSTOLE 173 

1 'I see. Thank you very much. Do you mind leav- 
ing the details with me ? " 

"Certainly, Mrs. Champneys." 

That same afternoon the young man again ap- 
peared at the back door. Barbara walked deliber- 
ately down. Mrs. Piddinghoe was handing him a 
box full of eggs. 

"What is this, Mrs. Piddinghoe?" she asked. 

The efficient housekeeper looked flustered. 

"Oh," she remarked perfunctorily, "we're send- 
ing some eggs back. They're not good ones." 

Barbara opened the box. 

"They look excellent ones to me. And are you 
sending back a shoulder of mutton to the same per- 
son? I thought one got mutton at a butcher's and 
eggs at a grocer's. 

Mrs. Piddinghoe became dark with menace. 

"If you please, Mrs. Champneys, I'm not in the 
'abit of being cross-examined. I've done for Mr. 
Champneys for ten years, and there has never been 
no complaint." 

"I'm not complaining yet. This is your son, 
isn't it?" 

"He does errands for me." 

"All right, only I should put those things back 
in the larder if I were you." 

The following morning a Sunday after her 
bath, she went into George's room. He was sitting 
up in bed, with a dishevelled breakfast tray by his 
side, a cigarette in his mouth, and a copy of the 
Referee in hand. She sat on the edge of his bed and 
said: 

"George, I want to speak seriously to you." 



174 HEARTBEAT 

He put down the paper and blinked at her ques- 
tioningly. 

"Seriously! So early in the morning? Come 
and give me a kiss first. You look a little darling 
just out of the bath and your hair all wet ' 

She allowed a reasonable amount of " mauling 
about," then she said abruptly: 

' ' George, do you think we ate five and a-half dozen 
eggs and seven pounds of butter this week?" 

"Five and a-half dozen eggs and seven pounds of 
butter? Who? You and I?" 

"No. I mean in this house?" 

"In the house? Lord! I don't know. There 
are a good many of us. Is it a lot? Why?" 

' * Do you remember having a duck and two fowls ? ' ' 

"My dear, what are you talking about? I can't 
remember what I ate last week." 

"Do you remember having chicken at home at 
all?" 

"I can't say I do. What are you getting at?" 

"I'm getting at the fact that the Piddinghoe is 
an old thief and a swindler." 

George's eyes opened wide, and an expression of 
troubled dread crept into them. He seemed to de- 
tect in his Fancy's attitude an outflanking attack 
upon his comfort and repose. If there was one thing 
he hated it was any kind of domestic upheaval. He 
laughed nervously and fell back on the same line of 
defence as that used by Samuel Toller. 

"Piddinghoe! Nonsense, my dear. She's been 
with me ten years. ' * 

"Yes, and I suspect that for ten years she has 
been systematically robbing you. She has a hus- 
band who runs a little shop, and a grown-up son. 



SYSTOLE 175 

The son calls here nearly every afternoon and car- 
ries off the loot for his father to sell. I should 
think between them they steal four or five pounds' 
worth of stuff a week. I can prove they've stolen 
a lot this week." 

Now, George ought to have been very grateful 
to his Fancy for this information ; he ought to have 
recognised that she was rendering him a great ser- 
vice ; but curiously enough he was not at all grate- 
ful. He was distressed; he wished profoundly she 
hadn't done it. His voice was almost angry as he 
replied : 

"Oh, no, I don't believe it. You've made a mis- 
take." 

There are some people whose nerves are always 
jagged early in the morning. Barbara's had not 
always been, but she was reaching that stage of 
development when they usually were. From her 
dressing-gown pocket she/ produced a bundle of 
tradesmen's bills. She struck them with her fist 
and her eyes blazed. 

"If you like to come down with me to the kitchen 
and the larder, I can prove it. We've paid for all 
kinds of things which we've never had. Look here 
three tins of tongue. We never have tinned ton- 
gue, and there's none in the house 

George became peevish. He picked up the Ref- 
eree. 

"My dear, I really don't desire to go down to the 
larder and hunt for tins of tongue. It's Mrs. Pid- 
dinghoe's business " 

Then Barbara became really angry. 

"You men! It's the kind of thing you do. You 
go on encouraging people to be immoral anything 



176 HEARTBEAT 

rather than disturb your comfort and, peace of 
m ind 

"Well I after all " 

"If you won't do anything about it, I will. I 
won't have a thief in the place." 

"Barbara, don't don't be in a hurry. Let's 
think " 

Barbara was already at the door. George got out 
of bed and tumbled after her. He stood at the open 
door, frightened and helpless. In a few minutes' 
time he heard such a hullabaloo going on down- 
stairs as had never before shattered the placid ser- 
enity of that well-ordered house. Two women's 
voices raised in shrill altercation, shouting each 
other down, and in each there was that note of com- 
monness which invariably colours a primitive emo- 
tion breaking loose. The din went on for nearly 
twenty minutes. 

At the end of that time Barbara returned, still 
ablaze with fury, still unapproachable, but just a 
shade triumphant. 

"She's going," she said icily, and passed through 
to her own room and shut the door. 

George groaned. This was a nice thing to hap- 
pen! The Piddinghoe! The loyal and efficient Pid- 
dinghoe, who had served him all these years. What 
the devil did Fancy want to butt in for? He knew 
or in any case he had often shrewdly suspected 
that Mrs. Piddinghoe took a few things. But what 
did it matter? It was the recognised perquisite of 
her class. While the theatre was making a clear 
profit of five or six hundred pounds a week, and all 
his interests and energies were wrapped up in it, 
what did it matter if Mrs. Piddinghoe did take a 



SYSTOLE 177 

few eggs or a tin of tongue, so long as she did her 
work efficiently and freed him from domestic worry? 
Women were impossible. He would like to explain 
to Fancy that one had to look at these things in a 
broad way. His experience told him that all the 
best and most competent servants were either 
thieves or drunkards. You allowed a margin for 
it. And what was going to happen now? 

Barbara was unapproachable. She was aggrieved 
with him, even more with him than with Mrs. Pid- 
dinghoe, because he had not sided with her. And 
they had quarrelled yes, there was no getting 
away from that, they had quarrelled for the first 
time in their married life. Well, she was wrong; 
no doubt about it. She had no right to act like that 
without his consent. After all, it was his house, his 
money. Something began to harden in George. He 
would have to teach her a lesson. She was very 
silent in the next room now, probably crying wo- 
men were like that their anger always had its re- 
action in tears. On such occasions it is better to 
keep out of the way. He lay back in the bed, con- 
scious of his power. Babrara had not treated him 
as she ought. Did she realise her dependence on 
him? Did she realise that she was an unrecognised, 
penniless actress, an illegitimate child, and he had 
made her the wife of the great George Champneys? 
Perhaps it was a little unkind to look at it like that ; 
he detested cruelty as much as a scene or a row. 
They would make it up later on of course, but in 
any case she must come to him, not he to her. He 
got out of bed and went into the bathroom. Having 
washed and dressed, he went downstairs and 
'phoned for his car. He drove up to his club, and 
did not see Barbara again that day. 



178 HEARTBEAT 

XXI. 

THE row about Mrs Piddinghoe had consequences 
more far-reaching than either of them could have 
anticipated. She was something of a female Sam- 
son, and realising that the temple was to fall upon 
her own head, she did everything to embroil others 
in the crash. She did not leave till late on that 
Sunday afternoon, and then she took the cook with 
her, and an enormous quantity of mysterious lug- 
gage. Before she left she threatened legal proceed- 
ings, and called Barbara a string of names unflat- 
tering to her moral character and the integrity of 
her parental stock. The other servants were all 
out, except the boy who cleaned knives and boots. 
After she had gone, Barbara discovered that the 
basement was in a complete state of chaos. Things 
were scattered all over the floor; doors of cup- 
boards and larders were locked and the keys miss- 
ing; gas was escaping from the kitchen range; water 
dripped from some mysterious tank in the passage. 
It was Sunday night, and the chances of getting a 
plumber or a gas-fitter were remote. Fortunately 
Snowden, the boot-boy, proved a host in himself. It 
was he who detected what was wrong with the stove. 
Between them they strove to rectify the results of 
the disruption. 

She had a feeling George would not come back 
till late, and she did not care. Over this business 
George had shown his worst side. He had behaved 
like a spoilt baby. He had been weak and unreason- 
able. He ought to have been grateful to her for 
discovering the robbery; instead of that he had 
practically told her to mind her own business. After 



SYSTOLE 179 

all, wasn't the house hers as much as his? Hadn't 
he often said so? 

They had quarrelled; no escaping that fact 
yes, quarrelled for the first time. Well, he was in 
the wrong, no doubt about it. He was too big and 
important to worry about tins of tongue and pounds 
of butter. He feared a scene or any unpleasantness, 
and so he ran away ! Men were like that. If every- 
thing wasn't just right for them, they didn't try 
and put it right they ran away and hid. If George 
bought a thing, and when he got home he found it 
defective, he just grumbled, and then went and 
bought another. Catch him taking it back to the 
shop ! Pampered fools ! She was a little unstrung, 
but the occupation of putting her house in order 
steadied her. Her crust hardened. George had 
treated her badly. Did he realise that she had given 
him her youth? Did he not know that he was a 
puffy, elderly man? Perhaps that was unkind he 
loved her well enough in his way but he must be 
taught some sort of lesson. Of course they would 
make it up, but in any case, he must come to her, 
not she to him. She wasn't going to dino alone in 
an empty house, and cook her own dinner, so she 
telephoned to Isabel, and happened to catch her. 
The two girls went down to Romano's and dined 
extravagantly; and over the wine-glasses Barbara's 
eyes sparkled with malicious satisfaction realising 
that it was George's money she was spending. 

The reconciliation was more difficult of accom- 
plishment than might have been imagined. Indeed, 
it may be said that after the affair of Mrs. Pidding- 
hoe they never quite got back on to the old footing. 
Two obstinate wills came into conflict: the man's 



180 HEARTBEAT 

defensive, cautions, and secure in its ultimate tri- 
umph; the woman's offensive, a little reckless, re- 
lentlessly logical and yet eternally conscious of ex- 
posed dangers. It seems strange how in this world 
of ours the test of our moral dissonances may be so 
often tried over matters which concern petty things 
like tins of tongue and pounds of butter. At the in- 
ception of this quarrel Barbara had not been un- 
duly eager to follow up the attack on Mrs. Pidding- 
hoe; she was a little sorry for her. It was George's 
attitude which inflamed her. In a flash she seemed 
to see epitomised in the incident all the turgid un- 
pleasantness of his character his vanity, and weak- 
ness, his love of comfort, and above all the mighty 
claims of his possessive sense, a possessive sense 
which included her (body and soul) in its inventory 
of household goods. 

On the Sunday night after it happened, they both 
got home very late, within ten minutes of each 
other. They were both a little scared about the 
quarrel, and both had had time to relent somewhat. 
At the same time, they had both determined not to 
give themselves away. George went to her door, 
and standing nonchalantly in the opening, he said : 

"Did you get some dinner?" 

She replied in an offhand manner : 

"Yes, you bet I did. With Isabel. The place is 
in a nice muddle. The gas was escaping. That wo- 
man has pinched the keys." 

All this, she implied, was George's fault. George 
was convinced that it was her fault; nevertheless 
he felt a little guilty about having left her to cope 
with the situation alone. He mumbled: 

"Oh, well. We'll do something about it to-morrow 
Good-night." 



SYSTOLE 181 

" Good-night. " 

Not a word, not a gesture of real conciliation 
not an embrace, for the first time ! 

In the days which followed, the policies which 
the cumulative characteristics of those two married 
people embodied in themselves continued to sustain 
a silent conflict. A real good row, with passion and 
tears, would have tended to clear the air; instead 
of that, they continued to be themselves in a sub- 
dued form. Between them lay a barrier of unex- 
pected, critical resentment. George was like and 
about as useful as a cat during a removal. He 
regarded the disunion of his well-ordered house 
with an expression which clearly implied: " There 
you are! What did I say? Interfere, alter, and 
things go to pot. It has taken me years to build 
this up, and you've destroyed it in a day." 

Barbara, on her part, found like many other re- 
formers that it is always dangerous to destroy 
an essential thing till you have found something 
to put in its place. George's valet, one house-maid. 
Annette and the faithful Snowden alone remained. 
Of these, the three adults refused to do anything 
beyond their normal allotted task, and even then 
under a kind of protest, as much as to say: 

1 'We are not used to this sort of atmosphere. You 
must rectify it at once." 

She found herself trying to do half the house- 
work, cleaning George's boots, and cooking for the 
staff. On the third day she managed to get a house- 
keeper with an excellent character and her husband, 
an ex-marine. She also got a cook. Within twenty- 
four hours the cook was quarrelling with the house- 
keeper and refused to stop. A few days later the 



182 HEARTBEAT 

ex-marine came in one evening very drunk, just as 
she was going off to the theatre. He insisted upon 
going to sleep on a Chesterfield in the library, be- 
cause he said that at last he was on board ship. It 
would be tedious to recall the changes, the quarrels, 
the complications which ensued in this household 
which had previously run with well-oiled simplicity. 
It was an undoubted triumph for George, the more 
especially as he made a point of only being there 
for bed and breakfast, the details of both of which 
comforts Barbara attended to herself. It was near- 
ly four months before the place regained any sem- 
blance of ordered calm, and even then the standard 
was nothing like so high as it had been in the days 
of "the Piddinghoe. ' ' Many things were missing, 
including silver-backed brushes of George's, some 
carved ivory figures, a collection of Barbara's trin- 
kets, and even a small clock. With all the changes 
it was impossible to bring the guilt home to anyone. 
Moreover nothing was just where it ought to be. 

In one of his more agreeable moods George fav- 
oured her with a profound comment. 

"A house," he said, "is like a State. It's got to 
be run on human nature, not high-falutin', ideals." 

He left her to digest this apothegm at leisure. He 
had gone before she had time to reply : 

"You mean to say it's got to be run by thieves 
and drunkards." 

xxn. 

IT was George, however, who eventually "came to 
her." He caught a chill and got very sorry for him- 
self. It was at the time when things had improved. 



SYSTOLE 183 

A reliable Scotch housekeeper had been installed, 
and a cook who frequently cooked quite well, two 
new housemaids, and a char to do the unpleasant 
work for them a period of comparative calm. 

George came home late after the theatre. He 
said he felt very tired, and his bones ached. He had 
his usual night-cap and went up to bed. She had 
retired, too, but in about half-an-hour's time there 
was a tap at the door, and he came in and shut it. 
She heard him stumbling towards her bed in the 
darkness, and mumbling, "Fancy! Fancy!" 

He lay down upon it, on the outside of the eider- 
down, and pressed his moist face against hers. 

"I've been an awful cad to you, Fancy," he 
whispered. 

He was humid and, at the same time, feverish. 

"You're not well, George," she whispered back. 
"You'd better have some aspirin. I'll get you 
some." 

He clung to her and would not let her move. 

"It's not that. I've been worrying about you. 1 
can't stand it any longer. I hate all this. I want 
you just the same as before. Forgive me, Fancy 
I love you. ' ' 

She lay there inert, and let him kiss her. When 
she could speak, she said: 

"I'm sorry it happened. You'd better let me get 
you some aspirin." 

"Afterwards, not now. I want to hold you like 
this, all alone in the darkness. Just you and I to- 
getherlike we used to- 
Poor old George ! He was sorry for himself. ^ 
put her hand at the back of his head and stroked 
his hair. She mothered him discreetly, shrouding 



184 HEARTBEAT 

her emotions in a genuine sympathy for his con- 
dition. This was married life, then perhaps as 
much as anyone dare expect fair days and foul 
days, and then a groping together in the darkness. 
This was marriage, then an institution, like a house 
or State, to be run on " human nature, and not on 
high-f alutin ' ideals." George had come to her be- 
cause he wanted her, a warm and comforting niche 
in the structure of his domestic conception. To- 
morrow or as soon as he felt well everything 
would go on just the same, but to-night. 
She felt the heave of his body hungrily restless for 
his traditional comforts. 

"Get inside, then," she whispered again. "Only 
you must try and keep still. I'll go and get you the 
aspirin and some hot water." 

On the morrow he was still feverish, and she sent 
for a doctor. It was only a chill, but he was obliged 
to drop out of the bill for three days. His part was 
played by an understudy. Barbara nursed him, con- 
trolling, meanwhile, with a firm hand her recon- 
structed household. When the fever had abated he 
sat about forlornly in a dressing-gown, bored by the 
enforced inactivity, the absence of glamour and ap- 
plause. During the daytime he would be contented 
enough, but when it came to seven o'clock in the 
evening he would appear to shake with an ague of 
agitation. He should be in the dressing-room now, 
with Manners, and Banstead, and the others danc- 
ing attendance. He should be at the back, with call- 
boys and property-men falling over each other, 
touching their hats: "Good evening, Mr. George." 
The agitated murmurs of the crowd in front, chat- 
tering over their programmes. Eight o'clock, and 



SYSTOLE 185 

the orchestra tuning up people rushing hither and 
thither. "Lights, please, Mr. Winslow." Eight- 
fifteen "Beginners, please!" Eight-thirty, up goes 
the curtain; the roar of welcome at his familiar 
figure 

"There he is! That's George Champneys! Good 
old George ! ' ' 

Oh, he had no use for Barbara during these vica- 
rious exultations, only to say when the pressure 
became unendurable: 

"I think I'll just have a spot, old girl." 

So soon as his temperature became normal he 
drank a lot of whisky. He said it was good for him, 
and in a way she believed it was. The demand for 
it was in his blood, as was the demand for adulation 
and applause. During those days the true charac- 
ter of the man became vividly manifest, and she 
tried not to see it. His good temper, kindness of 
heart, and generosity were, to an extent, a combin- 
ation of indolence and desire for popularity. It is 
easier and pleasanter to be good tempered than to 
be just and critical. He followed the line of least 
resistance in all things. Generous? Why shouldn't 
he be generous? He had abundance, and nothing 
so warmed and quickened the popular palate as 
lavish tipping and a reckless disregard for cost. 
Everything had come too easily to George, and the 
result had destroyed his moral fibre. He was wear- 
ing badly. His body was becoming loose and flabby, 
his face lined and puffy, his eyes dull and preoc- 
cupied. His dog-like attachment to her was of an 
unreliable kind. She was a necessary adjunct to his 
existence, and yet she bored him. She never knew 
whether he was really listening when she spoke to 



186 HEARTBEAT 

him. One thing was certain. If she told him any- 
thing overnight he never remembered it the next 
morning. This was a trait which irritated her al- 
most beyond endurance. They would have a long 
discussion in the evening about, for instance, what 
was to be done with a certain bureau. The matter 
would be settled and disposed of, and then, the next 
morning, he would suddenly say: 

"I say, Fancy, where shall we put that bureau?" 
Neither was his temper of that equable kind as- 
cribed to it by reputation. It was one thing in the 
limelight of success to laugh and joke with every- 
one, to raise salaries, to tip extravagantly, to be 
hail-fellow-well-met with the humblest minions of 
his staff. All these stories got about. In the bars 
off Shaftesbury Avenue where the stage-hands con- 
gregated, in the clubs where the "old boys" fore- 
gathered, in green-rooms and agents' offices, every- 
one would say: "Ah, you should get in with old 
George Champneys. He's a sport, if you like 
treats everyone alike gave young Cinders a quid 

for carrying his bag out to the car- " 

All this was true, but it was she who had to bear 
the brunt of his sullen reactions. He would have 
moods of unreasoning irritability, when some triv- 
ial matter like cold toast would cause him to sulk 
and fume for hours. Sometimes he would appear to 
harbour some inexpressible antagonism towards her. 
He would regard her distrustfully, as though aware 
that she filled the niche he had designed for her re- 
luctantly that she was an eternal challenge to the 
claims of his possessive sense. In short, he did not 
and never would possess her. The love which 
"was to come afterwards" had not materialised, 
and it was slipping farther from his reach. 



SYSTOLE 18? 

Sometimes he would dismiss her from his mind 
altogether, and indulge in idle dreams the yellow 
sands of the little bay at Rapallo, the villa entangled 
with flowers against the dark trees, Maisie leaning 
over the balcony holding out her arms youth to 
youth, the unmatched beauty of unspoilt desire. 
And dark thoughts would flitter through his mind. 
He had gained the whole world and lost his soul. He 
became afraid of the darkness and the empty mo- 
ments. 

"I'll just have a tot, old girl." 

And so the perpetual compromise went on, the 
eternal moving on and slipping back. And when 
he laughed the world laughed with him, and when 
he wept he wept alone, or into the husk of a stillborn 
love. And always there haunted him the recurrent 
premonition: "One day she'll get a lover what 
will I do then?' ' 

It was characteristic of him that in that moment 
he thought only of himself. And he admonished 
himself : 

"When it happens I'll have to keep my head. I 
mustn't kill her or the man, or I'll get hanged." 

God! It might all have been so different! He 
tried to analyse the reasons, to locate the precise 
moment when everything had gone wrong. But he 
could not. The facile descent leaves few landmarks, 
and those which exist are usually invisible to the 
egoist. It was hard luck, just pure hard luck. If, 
now, he had a child a son? no, perhaps a daughter, 
a laughing, sunny girl, with all her life before her, 
flinging her little arms around his neck how secure 
he would feel with a love like that. No one can 
usurp a father's place or a mother's. But this other 



188 HEARTBEAT 

l ove that's like an open conflict with the world. 
He became watchful and jealous. He must be more 
careful with his darling Fancy in the future. 

One day he came to the conclusion that Samuel 
Toller was a dangerous person to have about 
young and unattached, rather good looking, and be- 
coming too free and intimate. He sent him away 
in charge of a tour and engaged Caleb Thirkettle as 
his secretary. Caleb Thirkettle was also young, but 
he was a plain, serious-minded young man, married 
to Grade Bard, the actress ; and they had two young 
children. 

XXIH. 

BAKBAEA was only partly conscious of her husband's 
disorderly humours. After the revelation which had 
come to her during his brief illness, she preferred 
not to indulge in moral speculations, not to visualise 
dubious hypotheses. She had failed, her dreams 
had not come true ; nothing was left but the ancient 
salve of making the best of a bad job. Direct com- 
pensation in the way of material things was easily 
accessible, and for a time she abandoned herself to 
it. She snapped the shutter on the little visions 
which had accompanied her through life. Only one 
still persisted in dancing before her eyes uninvited. 
It came at queer odd moments in the street, in her 
dressing-room, whilst singing, and when alone in 
the darkness if only she had a child a little 
daughter; no, perhaps a son, one who would cling 
to her and call her "Mummy" that would be a love 
that would endure through the inevitable fading 
and withering of the leaf. No one could supersede 



SYSTOLE 189 

her. And he would grow up into a proud, strong 
man; not like his father, more like the knight of 
her dreams. 

And so the tragi-comedy of this dubious alliance 
went on : nights of tunefulness and charm, and gay, 
mad laughter; applause and beauty, merry parties 
and extravagant feasts; fine 1 clothes and motor- 
rides to the open country; wit, and company, and 
social interplay; meeting together and parting; 
spasmodic attempts to regain a thing which had 
never existed; pity and tears, and the groping to- 
gether in the darkness ; sullen realisations ; and then 
back once more to dance to the tune of the piper. 

One evening a strange thing happened to Bar- 
bara. The run of "Laugh and Grow Fat" had 
come to an end, and they were rehearsing a new 
revue; consequently; many of her evenings were 
free. Isabel had again got a small part at Daly's, 
and on this evening in question Barbara had ar- 
ranged to go with her after the show to supper at a 
little cafe, frequented by "the" profession, near 
Long Acre. They arrived just before twelve, and 
the supper-room was very crowded. They eventu- 
ally got seats at a table in the corner, where two 
old men obviously actors were finishing a meal. 
They were both drinking whisky, and were in that 
state difficult to determine whether drunk or sober. 
There are some old men who have the genius of 
appearing always drunk, although they 8 may not 
have had anything to drink for weeks. Their con- 
versational methods are always ruminative, forensic 
and redundant. They bang on the table and say: 

"Ah, old boy, you should have heard Florenzo 



190 HEARTBEAT 

And then they give a convincing imitation of 
Florenzo, a performance which one should always 
allow them to do, because they enjoy it so much 
themselves. These two old blue-chins were of that 
kind. Isabel and Barbara both knew the type well, 
and were not unduly alarmed. Even when one of 
them said to Barbara: 

"Mademoiselle, you have the face of a queen 
who ruled in Ascalon." 

She only smiled, and said: 

"Oh, do you think so! Might I trouble you for 
the 0. K. sauce?" 

The two girls had their supper in comparative 
peace. When they had nearly finished Barbara 
suddenly heard one of them say : 

"Ah, old boy, there has been no one since Han- 
nifan you take it from me." 

For a moment the name Hannifan conveyed noth- 
ing to her; then she remembered, and her heart 
beat violently. Leaning across the table she said: 

"Excuse me, sir, did you know Hannifan?" 

The old actor's face lighted up with surprise and 
a joyous anticipation. Here was a chance, if ever 
there was one, to talk and air his experiences. And 
not, mark you, to old Bob Stepney, who had heard 
it all a hundred times and never listened once, but 
to a young and pretty woman, a stranger, eager to 
hear. He cleared his throat and thrust back his 
head. 

"My dear, Hannifan and I were hand-in-glove 
for longer than your life. Hannifan and I were on 
the road together, in fit-ups, when these syndicate 
halls were unborn. Hannifan and I shared our 
crusts and bowls of gruel, when one had to serve 



SYSTOLE 191 

an apprenticeship not like now. Hannifan! Ah! 
there was an artist for you " 

' ' Yes, yes, I see. Excuse me, though, did you ever 
meet a singer called Kitty 'Bane I" 

The old actor looked a little annoyed at the inter- 
ruption. It had spoilt his periods. He might eventu- 
ally have touched on Kitty O'Bane, but he had 
hardly launched Hannifan yet. He puckered up his 
lips. 

1 'Yes, I knew Kitty an artist, too. She was out 
in the summer of '84. Hannifan said to me " 

"Oh, please tell me anything you know about 
her." 

Very well, then, if she wouldn't let him talk about 
Hannifan, Kitty 'Bane would serve almost as well. 

"Kitty O'Bane might have climbed to the top of 
the tree. She had youth, beauty, and great talent. 
Her mother was Irish ; her father ' ' He shrugged 
his shoulders. "Kitty O'Bane, when I first met her, 
was not unlike you, mademoiselle. She had the 
same dark eyes, the eager lips, the Queen of Ascalon 
air. She was taller than you, and she could ride. I 
saw her first in a circus, jumping through hoops. I 
was with dear old Larry, the best sand-dancer who 
ever put toe to board 

"Why didn't she climb to the top of the tree?" 

The old man drew himself up, and took a deep 
draught of whisky-and-water. Then he said por- 
tentously : 

"Because of the flesh-pots of Egypt." 

"What do you mean by that I" 

"I can't tell you exactly, my dear. Women have 



192 HEARTBEAT 

always been an unopened book to me. There was 
some scandal. She got mixed up in a love-affair in 
higli society, I believe. She left the company. We 
did not see her for years. Indeed, I myself never 
saw her again. But Larry, I remember, told me 
that he came across her in Manchester. She was 
finished, broken, darting in and out of booths, cadg- 
ing money any old way. She went down, and down, 
and down." 

"Did she die?" 

"This was twenty years ago, or more, my dear, 
and she was sliding down. The upward path is 
lined with thorns, the downward path is greased 
with butter. I cannot say. Why do you ask me 
about Kitty O'Bane?" 

"Because she was my mother," said Barbara, and 
burst into tears. 



BOOK III. 
DIASTOLE 



BOOK in. DIASTOLE 

IN reorganising the details of her domestic world, 
Barbara found a certain element of delight. It was 
her first real taste of power. Having routed the 
redoubtable Mrs. Piddinghoe and triumphed over 
George, she took care not to let the reins of author- 
ity slip from her hand again. Aided by the Scotch 
housekeeper, she checked all the orders and sup- 
plies, and even went on pilgrimages to various 
stores to ascertain whether they were getting the 
best value for their money. It was rather a sur- 
prising streak in her, probably a by-product of the 
operation of having had a Chancellor for a father. 
Every Saturday morning she went into the library 
and spent an hour or so going over the accounts 
with Caleb Thirkettle, the new secretary. It was a 
source of satisfaction to her to realise the respect 
paid her by this rather solemn young man. He was 
the antithesis to the breezy Toller, who always 
treated the domestic finances of the Champneys' 
household with airy indifference. To Thirkettle it 
all seemed very important and interesting, and he 
supplied her with order-books, and receipt-files, and 
a wages-book for the servants. If anything went 
wrong with the electric light or gas, instead of 
writing to a firm about it, he would invariably rec- 
tify the trouble with his own hands. He was a 

193 



194 HEARTBEAT 

competent young man, with a broad, flat, eager face, 
rather queer and frog-like. His grey eyes, which 
were set wide apart, were reflective and wistful. 
There was something about him which appealed to 
Barbara. 

"He's unhappy, and he's taking it like a sport," 
she decided. 

He was deferential and friendly, but not over- 
familiar. It was always a pleasure to ask his advice. 
His face lighted up, and he had a way of twisting 
his head on one side and nodding it thoughtfully. 
Then he would begin : 

"Well, what I would suggest, Mrs. Champneys, 
is this " 

He was essentially a person to be trusted and 
confided in, but a little difficult to draw out. Her 
affairs appeared to him of so much more importance 
than his own. He spent part of his time at the 
theatre and part of the time in the house. George 
liked him and found him incomparably more use- 
ful than Toller had been. He usually referred to 
him as "Frog- face" when speaking to Barbara, but 
to his face he called him "Thirk." 

Thirk was in every way a great success. Apart 
from his executive efficiency, he acted as a kind of 
bridge between husband and wife. He had the con- 
fidence of both, and as the gulf between them tend- 
ed to get wider and wider, so did this broad safe 
bridge became more and more valuable. Many a 
time when the tension became acute, when the con- 
flict of wills threatened a crisis, by some adroit 
manoeuvre the young secretary would save the situ- 
ation., Barbara's subversive inclinations towards 
material delights had not made things easier. She 



DIASTOLE 195 

frequently went to suppers and dances after the 
theatre, and when she arrived home George would 
be asleep. She entertained more, and spent money 
lavishly. It was not, as she explained to Thirkettle 
when they were going through accounts, that she 
"wanted to be mean, but I do hate being done." 
And Caleb Thirkettle agreed that it was a very 
human and natural feeling. 

Neither of them anticipated at that moment the 
part which human and natural feelings were to 
play in the immediate future. The welding of the 
links in that emotional chain which was destined 
eventually to circumscribe their united world of de- 
sires was a process which occupied some time. It 
began with the fellowship of a domestic inventory. 
It grew in the interchange of the most common- 
place gestures of personal inquiry. It budded in 
the mutual recognition of unexpressed suffering. It 
came to flower in the unadorned confession of a fail- 
ure to achieve. Barbara elaborated the full story 
of Mrs. Piddinghoe, and the quality of sympathy 
which her account evoked prompted her to ask Caleb 
Thirkettle 's opinion about the colour of curtains for 
a spare bedroom. Then she began to consult him 
about her frocks and hats. Queer, oh ! so very queer. 
What could Caleb know about frocks and hats? And 
yet she felt that she had never had so sympathetic 
a consultant. Frocks and hats led to other things. 
As the days went on, she found herself more and 
more depending upon his quick opinion, and it was 
not his opinion only. It was that, in consulting him, 
the matter, however trival, became of increased 
importance to herself. She looked forward to his 
visits, and saved up little things to tell him. Never 



196 HEARTBEAT 

before in her life had she met anyone to whom the 
barest detail became significant. Soon she had told 
him all about Isabel, and the affair of herself re- 
hearsing for the revue, and then being frozen out 
by Mr. Banstead, and the return of Rosie Ventnor. 
These disclosures rapidly led to confessions of a 
profounder nature. She told him about her father, 
her life at High Barrow, about Billy Hamaton, and 
then the secret concerning her mother, her father's 
will, her life on tour. She only held back at the in- 
decisions which obsessed her when George proposed. 

Even this avowal, she knew, was only held in 
abeyance. And it gave her a certain joy to feel that 
one day she would tell Caleb even this. She could 
envisage the distressed expression on his face, the 
little, quick, nervous way he would shake his head, 
the movement of the eyes which seemed to absorb 
the vision of an experience almost before she had 
described it. 

One afternoon she returned late from a tea and 
dance, and going into the library she found Caleb 
seated at the bureau with his head in his hands. 
The room was in semi-darkness. He looked up and 
made a movement as though to turn on the electric 
light. She waved her muff at him and called out: 

"No. Don't turn on the light. Come and sit by 
the fire, if you're not busy." 

He rose and walked obediently to the easy chair 
on the right of the fireplace. Barbara knelt on a 
tuffet. They looked at each other, and neither spoke. 
The fire crackled. Over in the studio two girls were 
rehearsing a duet. George, she knew, was in town. 
At last she smiled at him and whispered : 

"What is the matter, Thirk?" 



DIASTOLE 197 

He, too, tried to smile, but the glow of the fire 
revealed a smile all twisted awry. 

She repeated her question, and he answered 
huskily: 

"I've no right to talk to you as I would like to." 

The militant desire for revolt leapt to the fore- 
front of the girl's mind. She flashed out: 

"Damn it, Caleb; you have every right." 

It was the first time she had called him Caleb, and 
the employment of the Christian name was part of 
the challenge she was flinging to the dark forces 
which always appeared to be imprisoning her de- 
sires. Why shouldn't she have a friend? Probably 
it was her own fault that she had so far muddled her 
life, but she had no intention of being cut off from 
every channel which might lead to a greater free- 
dom. The young man did not appear surprised. 
He sighed comfortably, as though the impulsive- 
ness of her interjection had steadied him. He shook 
his head and said quietly: 

"What are you doing with your life, Mrs. Champ- 
neys? I've muddled mine." 

What an odd question ! What was she doing with 
her life? No one had ever asked her such a thing 
before. What was she doing with her life? Yes, of 
course, she. knew that Caleb had muddled his. She 
could tell it by his eyes. And she, too but no, she 
wasn't going to acknowledge yet that she had failed. 
She spoke defensively. 

"I know I haven't done much. I expected to do 
more get on more quickly. I've married a success- 
ful actor-manager. I I've 

She knew she was talking outside her subject, and 
when he replied : 



198 HEARTBEAT 

"You're only speaking of material failures and 
successes," she answered humbly: 

"Oh! I know." 

There was a silence in the room, emphasised by 
the distant sound of girls' shrill voices singing a 
song about "Casey's sold his sister's socks to Sue." 
The somewhat ironic contrast between this song and 
the sombre atmosphere of muffled confession was 
not lost upon Barbara. She could not hear the 
Words, but she knew the song quite well, and had 
sung in the chorus innumerable times. The ridic- 
ulous words kept jumbling through her head as she 
listened to Caleb's confession. 

"You see, both the parents persuaded almost 
insisted. I had only just left school. The child was 
born before our marriage, you see. The trouble is, 
I never loved her, never, never. I lost my head. We 
met at a skating-rink in Whitby. I knew nothing. I 
could not even earn my own living at that time. The 
trouble is, Mrs. Champneys, she loved me. She still 
loves me in her way. I have no capacity for cru- 
elty. Do you understand what I mean? At Char- 
borough I won prizes for prose essays, and poetry 
also. I was mad about the drama. We were 
turned adrift. I tried to act, but it was a failure. 
Grade got small parts, but I couldn't sponge on 
her, could I? I have written two plays neither 
suitable for commercial production. If it had only 
happened later. I've had no chance of going 
through the mill. I'm an amateur. I want to do 
so much. I'm not exactly a fool. I'm a kind of 
intellectual handy-man. I can earn my living now. 
I could in all sorts of ways. I believe I could be a 
plumber. Don't laugh at me. But it's the terrible 



DIASTOLE 199 

sense of not being allowed to do the work one wants 

"Why don't you leave her?" 

"How can I leave her? It would be unspeak- 
ably cruel. And there are the children." 

"Do you love the children?" 

"One can't help being fond of one's children." 

Again a silence fell between them. Barbara's 
heart was beating fast. She knelt there in the fire- 
light, a woman aglow in the luxury of the confes- 
sional. Clutching the beads at her throat, she whis- 
pered: 

"I've mucked things too, Caleb. I expect you 
understand. It has taken me years to realise that 
I don't love my husband. He promised me that 
love would come afterwards. . . ." 

Her voice died away, and they were afraid to 
look at each other. Suddenly she said: 

" Call me Barbara. We must be pals." 

She did not turn her head, but she was aware of 
him rocking restlessly in his chair. His voice was 
almost inaudible. 

"You see what it is drifting to. I must go away, 
Mrs. Champneys." 

She could not account for it, but when he said 
that she felt a queer stab of triumph. For the 
moment the innate desires of her being were com- 
pletely satisfied. They demanded nothing but re- 
pose for the purpose of reflection. She laughed 
softly and stood up. 

"We're a queer couple, Thirk. You mustn't de- 
sert me. I've got to go and dress now for the 
theatre, " . 



200 HEARTBEAT 

As she left she closed the door quietly, as one 
might on leaving a room where someone was at 
prayer. 

H. 

THAT night Barbara slept but little. She was con- 
scious primarily of a profound surprise. 

1 'I've had some rum experiences," she thought, 
''but nothing like this has ever happened to me be- 
fore. I've never met anyone before I wanted to tell 
everything to, regardless ..." 

Caleb, with his reticences and his restlessness had 
come like a prophet out of the wilderness. His al- 
most incoherent implications had conjured up a vast 
sea of delight of which she at present only stood 
on the foreshore. His perfunctory dismissal of ma- 
terial failures and successes came almost in the 
nature of revelation. She was uneducated, neglected, 
already sickening of "the flesh-pots of Egypt," but 
hungry for more substantial satisfactions. What 
had Caleb to offer? 

"It's damned awful being a woman," she thought 
at one point. It was less the restraints and inhibi- 
tions which the sex disability imposed upon her than 
the trend of outlook which the exigencies of her up- 
bringing had forced her to adopt. Had she been a 
boy, her father would have educated her differently. 
Had she been a boy, she would have championed 
her mother's cause openly. She would have had 
the freedom to attack and reconstruct. 

Caleb? Their cases were not identical. He had 
made his own mistake, and he was free to rectify it. 
She was a victim of the mistakes of others, and she 



DIASTOLE 201 

had to work furtively, in the dark. She had to grope 
for the spiritual threads which others had snapped. 
Towering above her was the immovable mass of her 
father 's enduring shadow and she was by no means 
an irresistible force. Almost as though he had or- 
dained it, she now staggered beneath the dominance 
of another man who exercised in the flesh somewhat 
similar prerogatives. A weaker character than her 
father, but with the same myopic conservatism of 
outlook. A little more human than her father- 
indeed, in many ways far too human but equally 
egoistic, self-sufficient, and blind to another's par- 
ticularly if it be a woman's point of view; and by 
these tokens carrying in his heart the infinite 
capacity for cruelty. 

In that mood she postulated mankind as a wholly 
unbalanced discord of the sexes. Men were cruel. 
Her smattering of reading presented jumbled 
visions from Joan of Arc burnt at the stake to Tess 
hanged. Her own experience rioted with recollec- 
tions from her father's injustice and silent tyranny 
to the little agents who mauled girls about, from 
George's almost unconscious grip upon her freedom 
to the arrogance of Julius Banstead. Strangely 
enough, this sense of inequality did not depress her; 
rather she felt stimulated and militant. St. George 
would never have been a hero if there hadn't been 
a dragon or two about. 

She awoke refreshed and eager for whatever the 
day might bring forth. And the first thing that the 
day brought forth was a simple desire that her life 
might serve some useful end. She evolved this ami- 
able ambition from her own inner :consciousnesi 
while having a bath, and she was e xtremely plea* 
with herself at the resolution. Caleb had said noth- 



202 HEARTBEAT 

ing about serving a useful end, but the influence of 
his benign disquietude prompted it. She resolved 
that George was frankly a materialist and to that 
hour she had been the same. "What were they do- 
ing with their lives but getting on, making money, 
chasing popularity, buying comforts, and worship- 
ping luxuries? Never once had George hinted at 
anything more ennobling. He could be generous, 
kind-hearted, sentimental all within the ambit of 
these material considerations ; beyond that the shoots 
of his ambitions withered and died. 

The next thing which the day brought forth was 
distressing news. After the conversation with the 
old actor in the cafe, she had written to a lawyer 
in Liverpool and asked him to try and trace any 
record of her mother. A letter came by the second 
post. The lawyer had been successful in his search. 
Her mother had died nineteen years ago, in an 
infirmary in one of the suburbs of Liverpool. Hav- 
ing apparently no relatives or friends or money, she 
had been buried in a pauper 's grave. "When Bar- 
bara read that she cried out in agony. Annette 
came running into the room: 
"Oln, madame! madame! qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" 
But Barbara had no use at that moment for the 
decorative French maid. Her heart was bleeding. 
She must go and break the news to George. But 
George was in the studio, trying over some songs 
with Birtles ; he would resent any interruption. Even 
if she told him she envisaged his large moist face 
looking rather scared and distressed; not distressed 
on account of her mother, but distressed because the 
news disturbed his own placid environment; it up- 
set his dear Fancy and made her difficult and unap- 
proachable. She had told him about the old actor, 



DIASTOLE 203 

and that she had written to Liverpool, but he had 
never enquired whether she had heard any news. 
He looked upon the episode as unpleasant and un- 
necessary. Why couldn't she let sleeping dogs lie? 
On second thoughts she decided not to tell him. 
What was the use? She must tell someone. There 
was Isabel. Isabel would probably weep and hug 
her, but would she understand? Isabel had a way 
of sometimes just saying the wrong thing. She was 
as great a materialist as George. 

No, the only person who would understand was 
her new friend Caleb, and he didn't come till four 
o'clock. She did not go out; but hung about the 
house in a fever of impatience. When he did arrive 
the ordeal became acuter still, for George comman- 
deered the young secretary and they retired to the 
library. She went to the door and listened, and she 
could hear George comfortably sucking his pipe and 
droning. 

Er you might write a line to Sydney Airedale 
and ask him if he's read 'The Gay Dog's Day.' 
want to get his report in. Oscar Lemmon Doesn't 
think much of it. By the way, make a note, I prom- 
ised Birtles 15 per cent, on the rake off we shall 
get from the sale of 'Mr. Percy's Pants Have 
Parted ' Where are last week's returns from the B 
company on tour? 'Urn. I told Ledger that it 
would be no good north of Glasgow and Edinburgh. 
'Um, 'urn, well covering expenses, anyway." 

How trivial and vulgar it all seemed! And there 
was Caleb Thirkettle, who might be writing pros 
dramas or doing something great and worthy, wast- 
ing his time writing stupid notes about Mr. Percy s 
Pants! Caleb was trapped, and she was trapped, 



204 HEARTBEAT 

caught up in the machinery of social progress. Mr. 
Percy's pants! Social progress! Would George 
never stop talking? At last he drifted from busi- 
ness to social matters, and she heard him tell Caleb 
two of l i the very latest, ' ' which he had heard at the 
Club yesterday, and Caleb laughed politely. Or, 
perhaps, he was really amused. Men were strange 
creatures. 

With almost uncanny deliberation George came 
out into the hall and put on his hat and coat. On 
observing her he said : 

11 Hullo, dear. I've got to go up to White's to 
meet Joe Costing. " 

The temptation to say "All right. Well, hurry 
up," was almost unendurable. 

When he had really gone she darted into the 
library, and, without any preliminary explanation, 
thrust the letter into Caleb's hand and said: "Bead 
that!" 

She saw the look of troubled concern steal over 
his face as his eyes scanned the letter. When he had 
finished it, he was really angry. He exclaimed: 

* ' My God ! What a damned injustice ! ' ' 

Oh, it was just what she wanted, someone to ex- 
press her own feelings, and to share the horror and 
the anger. Now that she had her victim there she 
did not mean to spare him. She stood with her 
back to the fire, and tears started to her eyes, al- 
though her voice was fairly under control. 

1 'Think of it, Caleb. My father buried in West- 
minster Abbey, my mother in a pauper's grave. And 
at one time they must have loved each other. They 
shared the same house, the same bed. Do you think 
he could have known? Did they drift apart? If 



DIASTOLE 205 

Father was so hard, so unjust as that why did he 
keep that packet of love letters? What could Mother 
have done that the lawyer said she treated him 
badly, 'after all his generosity'?" 

She rattled out these questions, knowing full well 
that Caleb could not give any satisfactory answers, 
but comforted in sharing the anguish they pro- 
voked. 

When she had quieted a little, he said reflec- 
tively : 

* ' Your Mother could not have been a bad woman. ' ' 

The remark surprised her, and she exclaimed- 
"Why?" 

"People have said that you are the spit and im- 
age of her." 

Ah! She wanted him to know the truth of all 
things. She could not let that pass. She went up 
close to him and whispered fiercely : 

" Don't be deceived, Caleb. I'm no bally heroine. 
I'm awful at moments. You'd never believe it if 1 
told you what I'm like. I'm out for myself all the 
time. I've always been like that. As a child I was 
utterly selfish and spoiled. When I look back on it 
I feel convinced now that I only married George be- 
cause it would help me on. Till you came and talked 
about 'material successes and failures' I believed my 
mission was just that to get on, and be popular and 
rich and successful. But now somehow I believe 
that it is something else 

"Which goes to prove my contention. Fundamen- 
tally you're fine. They've never given you a chance 
Barbara." 

"Thank you for calling me Barbara. You're aw- 
fully nice to me, Caleb, but, believe me, I don't de- 



206 HEARTBEAT 

serve it. I know I'm not an out-and-out rotter like 
some of these women. But, oh! I have awful 
vicious, foolish impulses. I'm not only selfish." 

"The tragedy is that a man may have vicious, 
foolish impulses, and be buried in Westminster Ab- 
bey. If a woman has them she goes to a pauper's 
grave." 

"Then there is no God." 

"Yes, there is. That's just what there is a God." 

"Oh, Caleb, tell me what you mean." 

The young man turned away from her and walked 
slowly up and down the room. The troubled look 
still haunted his eyes. He spoke disconnectedly. 

"I am bad at explaining, Barbara. I can only say 
things as they occur to me. I'll tell you why there's 
a God when sometimes it seem there can't be. One 
has to look at the broad line. Man has sprung from 
an inferior mammal. What impresses me in this 
in the big sweep of physical and spiritual evolution 
there is no such thing as retrogression. Sometimes 
things appear to be going backwards, but this is 
only because they are preparing for a spring for- 
ward. Individuals fail, races become decadent and 
die, but the thrust of humanity must inevitably be 
upward." 

Barbara pondered these statements carefully. 
They went a little beyond her immediate comprehen- 
sion, but they were charged with hope. She frowned 
at the fire. 

"Do you believe in Nemesis, then?" 

"I believe in a spiritual Nemesis." 

Spiritual ! Why did Caleb always talk about spir- 
itual things, when no one else had ever done so ex- 
cept in connection with the Church or table-rapping! 



DIASTOLE 207 

Without turning her head she said eagerly: 

"What precisely do you mean by spiritual !" 

"That part of us which deals with ideas " 

"Ideas I" 

"Yes. You and your mother are both victims of 
ideas. Those ideas will meet their Nemesis. Listen, 
Barbara; we are all so apt to regard the ugliness 
and injustice which surround us that we overlook the 
greater ugliness and injustice from which they have 
sprung." 

"Do you really believe that mankind advances!" 

' * Mankind can 't help advancing. ' ' 

"It didn't help my mother much." 

1 ( The physical existence of both your mother and 
your father is at an end. Their spiritual story is 
not yet complete. That is what I believe." 

"Oh! I would like to believe that so much." 

"Moreover, the ideas which they individually em- 
bodied will work out to an equitable solution." 

"I would like to believe that, too." 

"Perhaps that is why you are conscious of some- 
times feeling like an instrument. The forces are 
working through you and through your 

The young man hesitated, and Barbara buried her 
face in her hands. 

She groaned aloud: "0 God, I wish I had a son!" 

in. 

GEORGE was quite right. Love did come afterwards 
to Barbara Champneys, but it was not through her 
husband that she plumbed its mystic depths. It 
came suddenly, tempestuously, and with a radiance 
which illumined the dark corners of her soul. It was 



208 HEARTBEAT 

there before she knew it, with gossamer wings flut- 
tering against her window pane at dawn. It filled 
her crowded day with a thousand tokens of rapture. 
For the first time she saw life as it was, and as it 
might be, and as it had never surely been before to 
anyone. And the magician holding the key to this 
enchanted world was the queer little "Frog-face" 
secretary, whom George had substituted for the dan- 
gerous Mr. Toller. 

Her love was cradled in his enveloping sympathy, 
which quickened as it warmed. She flew to him like 
the bee to the clover. She rose to him like a drenched 
flower to the rays of the sun. He became an indis- 
pensable, inevitable salve to her aching wounds of 
moral duress. She listened for his footsteps, lulled 
her senses to an ecstasy of comfort in the warm tim- 
bre of his voice, in the exaltation of his words. The 
idyllic connection rapidly followed the normal evolu- 
tion of "human and natural feelings." She real- 
ised this one morning when he was packing a des- 
patch case. He was leaning over the table, vigor- 
ously tucking a sheaf of contracts into the case. 
The lines of his mouth and nostril were accentuated. 
Around his eyes were tiny wrinkles as he frowned 
at the job in hand. Abruptly she thought: "Good 
God! I love him." She wanted to laugh, but at the 
same time she thought: "There will never be any- 
one else." 

She felt no idle desire to kiss, as she had in the 
case of the lord's son. It was an overwhelming de- 
sire to possess. She wanted Caleb for her very own, 
always always. She knew at that moment that fate 
had mocked at her ; her life with George was a trav- 
esty. What was she to do f 



DIASTOLE 209 

And Caleb? The action of packing the bag was 
symbolical. Every day he determined to pack his 
bag and go away. He knew that this was the right 
and proper indeed the only thing to do. And 
every day he put it off. He was an idealist whose 
idealism was temporarily suspended in face of a 
stupendous temptation. A married man with two 
children making love to his employer's wife ! It was 
in vain that he persuaded himself that this state- 
ment gave a false account of the situation, that he 
was not " making love to her" he loved her, which 
was a different thing ; he was helping her, in a way 
he was necessary to her. His conscience mocked 
him. Her image was never for an instant absent 
from his thoughts. He knew the hour would come 
when he would have to declare himself or die. This 
was no ordinary intrigue of the senses ; nevertheless, 
the senses insist upon playing their part in such a 
communion. He had never attempted to kiss her, 
or even to press her hands unduly when they met 
and parted. He rather went to the opposite extreme, 
knowing that any such action would mark the ap- 
proach of crisis. But their eyes were not idle, and 
the message of eyes cannot be muted or misunder- 
stood. For the rest, everything dovetailed with a 
satisfying perfection that appeared pre-ordained. 
The playground of their dawning passion seemed 
specially prepared. Caleb had every reason to spend 
several hours every day in the house, and George 
was frequently not there. Barbara had every ex- 
cuse for visiting the young secretary in the library. 
Was it not natural for the manager's wife to talk 
about the affairs of the theatre? In the evening she 
would frequently see him again behind the scenes 



210 HEARTBEAT 

or in one of the offices. Frequently they would drive 
down together in her car. 

Barbara, moreover, was not unschooled in the 
science of intrigue ; her conscience was a little dulled 
by the hazards of her theatrical career. In every 
instance it was she who made the advances, she who 
was the more obstinate in the acceptance of the es- 
tablished fact. Blinded as she was by the sudden 
glare of this new revelation, she nevertheless real- 
ised the need for caution. So far he had not had 
time to focus the eventualities and possibilites of 
the position, but she was instantly aware of its dan- 
gers and penalties. Her one absorbing impulse was 
\ not to let it slip away, to hold this precious visita- 
tion and make the utmost of it against the buffets of 
the world. To this end she quickly realised that cir- 
cumspection would be essential. She must be cau- 
tious and watchful, and not shatter the spectrum of 
this heaven-sent light by any rash or foolish act. 

Caleb at first was for doing the wise and proper 
thing, but by the more pervading force of her re- 
liance upon his strength she gradually gained the 
ascendancy over his resolves. 

"So long as it doesn't go any further," was the 
rampart of defence upon which he constantly fell 
back. 

At the same time, he knew in his heart of hearts 
that the day would come when it would be bound 
to go further. He adumbrated visions of Platonic 
gestures, but the central fact of passion was graven 
with no uncertain markings. She was at that time 
-a beautiful and desirable woman, in the fullness of 
her development. In her presence his idealism be- 
came a thing of dusty theories. Life is a reality 



DIASTOLE 211 

which springs surprises upon us every day. Even 
what we think and believe and pin our faith to to- 
day may be on the shelf to-morrow, accumulating 
the dust. Oh, he could argue himself out of it well 
enough, but what of the morrow? If he should awake 
to find himself beyond the sound of her voice, away 
from the perfume of her hair, shut off for ever from 
the welcome of her eyes, what would brook the no- 
blest theories of the noblest theorists? Let Plato 
rage in hell, and Aristotle, Luther and Marcus hug 
their precious sophistries in what dim corner of the 
universe the gods had placed them! He was alive, 
in Kensington, with an April sun warming the spring 
buds in his employer's garden. And soon she would 
be there. 

Above the passion which obsessed him his mind 
brooded like a mother alarmed at a recalcitrant child 
but unable to check its unexpected humours. He 
analysed and introspected, and wavered hesitatingly 
before the apparition. 

Barbara had no such misgivings, or if she had they 
were buried in a sub-conscious plane, momentarily 
shelved by the urgency of more pressing affairs. 
She was like an animal recognising an atavistic ten- 
dency, and blindly consumed by an uncontrollable 
desire to preserve it, believing thereby to serve the 
primal instincts of its type. What thinking she die 
was directed by her sense of cunning and self-prot 
tion In her presence Caleb found himself a vasl 
compendious philosopher, with the heart of a child 
Oh, it was a joy to tell her little things, to watch 
the eager parting of her lips, the eyes hungrily ab- 
sorbing his most trivial impression. Banalities be- 
came important, generalisations a deliciou8 adven- 



212 . HEARTBEAT 

ture, the hard facts of daily experience a tender 
chronicle of mutual regard. And then the confi- 
dences which swung backwards and forwards 
whither did they expect them to lead? 

The crisis came in a very commonplace way. One 
evening, after tea, she went into the library. She 
was dressed for going out. Caleb had his back to 
her and he pretended to be absorbed in his work. 
She crept up on tip toe and in a sudden whim put 
her arms round his head and her hands over his 
eyes. Then she laughed, and glanced at the desk. 
On it were books and papers connected with the 
theatre, but in one corner was an open copy of 
Browning. She exclaimed: 

1 ' Oh ! so this is the way you pretend to do your 
work! The sack for you, Mr. Thirkettle." 

The boy seized her two hands firmly and pulled 
them down upon his breast ; but he did not release 
them. By this action her cheek was very near his 
own. He replied: 

"Please, madame, I was only reading about you." 

What was he reading about her? The question 
was not immediately answered, for their cheeks 
touched. He felt her hair tickling his temples, and 
it was more than he could endure. He swung round 
on his seat, put his right arm round her neck, and 
pulled her face to his. He kissed her cheek, and 
mouth, and lips, and she did not protest. When it 
was done they both laughed self-consciously. It was 
she who spoke first. 

"What were you reading about me?" 

He found it necessary to kiss her again in a rather 
more prolonged manner before he replied : 

"You shall read it yourself." 



DIASTOLE 213 

And he handed her the book opened at "Porphy- 
ria's Lover." 

Neither made any reference to the sudden ex- 
pression of passion. Barbara took the book away 
and went and sat in a corner seat. She did not look 
up until she had finished the poem. Then she said : 

"What an extraordinary poem? Why does it 
make you think of me!" 

Caleb stood up and walked towards her stealthily. 
He sat down by her side and took her hand. 

"I don't know. I always think of you as Porphy- 
ria." 

"What does it really mean, Caleb! Why does 
the man strangle her!" 

"For the same reason that I want to strangle 
you. ' ' 

"Oh, you mustn't do that. It would seem so- 
so ungrateful, after we had been such good friends. 
Besides, I should hate it. I don't want to be stran- 
gled. No, no, not again 

She darted away from him with the book in her 
hand. When some distance away she read aloud the 
last two lines : 

And all night lonf? we have not stirred, 
And yet God has not said a word. 

"I like that. It's so graphic, isn't it. Of course 
God never does say a word. He wouldn't have said 
a word, whether the man strangled her or not. Do 
you know what God does, Caleb? He sends mes- 
sages to our door by a messenger, and the mess 
ger hands them in and says, 'There is no answei 
There never in an answer to God." 

There were tears, born of a fierce excitement on 
the brink of her eyes. Suddenly she thrust out 1 



214 HEARTBEAT 

arms and said in a changed voice : "What are we go- 
ing to do about this I" 

Caleb sat there staring at his feet. He was 
ashamed, perplexed and profoundly stirred. 

"It's got to be faced," he answered, not looking 
up. "It's been coming on so long. I'm a cad, Bar- 
bara a cad, an utter cad. I must go away. ' ' 

Like a flash she was upon him, her arms round his 
neck, her lips pressed to his. 

"No, no, you can't do that. I want you, Caleb. 
I love you. ' ' 

From that moment they became lovers, lovers 
without a plan or a policy, loving secretly and fur- 
tively, without shame or misgiving, content that for 
a few hours each day the world rewarded them with 
the light of each other's presence. 

IV. 

THE Frolics still played to packed houses. At that 
time a revue was being done called "The Baker's 
Dozen," the company having now swelled to eleven 
people. The judicious sometimes murmured that 
"George Champneys and his company are nothing 
like they used to be in the old days, when they did 
the whole show in pierrot dress and practically no 
properties or change or raiment," but George knew 
the taste of the groundlings, and he was out to please 
them. He spent thousands of pounds on elaborate 
sets, properties, illusions, and tricks of lighting. 
The performance more closely resembled a panto- 
mime than an entertainment by a pierrot troupe. 
Rosie Ventnor had gone, and her place was now 
taken by the famous May Mendelssohn. In other 



DIASTOLE 215 

respects the cast had also been strengthened But 
as it happened, Barbara made an unexpected hit 
with an Apache dance, which she danced with an 
actor named Leonard Greer. The scene was a dingy 
attic with weird lighting effects, and the music, 
which had a haunting lilt, was by an Austrian named 
bzolt. Greer was an excellent 'dancer, and there was 
something about the combination which excited Bar- 
bara indescribably. With a red scarf round her 
head and a loose black ulster over her pierrette 
frock, she threw herself into the interpretation of the 
dance with great abandon. The actions were ex- 
tremely violent and exhausting to the performers, 
Greer in the finale picking her up and throwing her 
across his shoulders ; but the dance always brought 
down the house, and had to be repeated. 

"What has happened to Fancy?" queried the 
other members of the company. ' ' She seems to have 
found herself." 

George was frankly delighted and proud. He 
went about saying to everyone : 

"I say, have you seen Fancy's dance?" 

Even the Press bestowed a measure of praise upon 
the performance, and "Day by Day" said: "In the 
Apache dance in the last act Miss Fancy Telling and 
Mr. Leonard Greer proved themselves artistes con- 
siderably above the average British terpsichorean 
standard." Could enthusiasm go further? To 
Caleb her explanation was this : 

"When I do that dance I think of Porphyria. 
She was like that. She had a dolt of a husband, and 
she got fed up. One night she just went mad. It 
was music or something which got her. Music's a 
queer thing, the way it makes you sometimes feel 



216 HEARTBEAT 

you are yourself, only seventeen times more so. 
You see, she was very keen on that poor, lonely man 
and his 'cheerless grate.' She went to a dance and 
danced like mad, but she couldn't get the thought 
of him out of her head. And so, suddenly, late at 
night, she just sneaked out when no one was look- 
ing her husband was probably having a whisky and 
soda in the smoke-room she rushed through the 
rain and the sullen wind to the poet's house, where 
he lived all alone. She knew it was an awful thing 
to do. She burnt her boats, you see. But it was 
worth while, perhaps." 

"Perhaps it was," replied Caleb. "It may be we 
are only to take the strangling as a symbol, suffo- 
cated by popular disapproval, eh? All the same, I 
can't bring myself to like your Apache dance." 

"Oh, but why, Caleb?" 

"I don't know. It's somehow you, and yet, as 
you say, seventeen times yourself. It's the sa- 
vagest thing I've ever seen." 

They were in the library at the time, and she went 
up to him and pretended to bite the lobe of his 
ear. 

"I am a savage," she retorted. 

He pulled her down on to his knee and kissed her. 

"This is getting horribly serious, darling," he 
groaned. "What are we going to do?" 

"Be circumspect," she replied, snuggling her 
cheek against his. 

"This is a good demonstration of it. Anyone 
might come in at that door at any moment." 

"George is in town. There is no one else likely 
to." 



DIASTOLE 217 

"It's the unlikely thing one has to watch. I love 
you terribly." 

Barbara left him and went to the window In the 
little garden clumps of panises and tulips were rev- 
3llmg m the April sunshine, a lilac bush was a-bud 
Suddenly she turned to him and said : 

"Where are your rooms?" 

"In the Fulham Road." 

"Why shouldn't we go there?" 

"My dear, what were you saying about circum- 
spection?" 

"There's no harm in my calling on you at your 
rooms, is there?" 

"I have a landlady." 

"Well, what about it? She wouldn't think I'd 
come to murder you, would she?" 

"No no, I suppose she wouldn't, We might be 
seen going in. .You're famous, you know, Fancy 
Telling." 

"Nobody lives in the Fulham Road." 

"All right, my dowager duchess. You'd be 
shocked, though. It 's an awful little hole. ' ' 

"I'd be happier there with you, Caleb than in 
any dowager duke's mansion." 

"You darling!" 

And so, the following day Barbara Champneys 
called on Caleb Thirkettle at his rooms in the Ful- 
ham Road, and no one saw them go in, and no one 
saw them come out; neither did anyone know what 
transpired in the rooms. They were dingy. There 
was a small sitting-room, overcrowded with heavy 
mid- Victorian furniture, and the room connected by 
a folding-door with a bedroom slightly larger. 



218 HEARTBEAT 

V. 

IN talking of " spiritual Nemesis" Caleb soon be- 
came aware that he was submitting himself to the 
position of being hoist of his own petard. His con- 
science was on the rack. Every day he became more 
deeply in love with her, and the more he loved her 
the more troubled he became. He was a cad to 
George, a cad to his wife, and an unspeakable cad to 
his two young girls. Somehow the latter case af- 
fected him most. He had no particular regard for 
George, not a great deal for his wife ; but the chil- 
dren who were at present in the charge of a sister- 
in-law were dependent upon him and his good 
name. Moreover they adored him, and although 
they were too young to understand any marital com- 
plication, they were old enough to hug the illusion 
of a devoted mummy and daddy. If he left Gracie 
in the lurch it would bring unutterable distress upon 
all three. The grim question of money had also to 
be considered. Barbara had no private means, and 
he was entirely dependent upon his salary. If they 
ran away he might find it very difficult to get an- 
other situation, and Barbara had been accustomed 
all her Ife to every luxury and refinement. He could 
not possibly desert the children, or leave Gracie to 
keep them. 

The position was impossible. The love which 
had come to them both at last, ablaze with the fine 
flowers of idealism and true passion, could never be 
anything other than a sordid intrigue. In this re- 
spect the attitude of Barbara surprised him. She 
gave no evidence of the slightest shame or remorse. 
She was a complete intriguer. She brought to bear 



DIASTOLE 219 

in the matter a degree of cunning which astounded 
him. Down at the theatre she was just friendly and 
a little formal. In the house, when others were about, 
it was the same. But when they were alone he 
could have verified Isabel's comment: 

"You're a passionate little devil. A man could 
have a good time with you." 

They ranged through moods of playfulness and 
passionate disputations. Although her mind was 
less tutored than his, he found her easy and com- 
panionable to talk to, probably because she had 
tasted the stuff we call real life. She made shrewd 
and surprising conclusions, and would sometimes 
jump an obstacle which baffled him by the aid of her 
intuitions. In reverting to the culpability of their 
unholy liaison, she always adhered to the primitive 
excuse. 

"We're not doing anyone any harm. It's our af- 
fair. Something tells me that love like ours can't be 
wicked." 

Caleb found it difficult to answer this satisfac- 
torily, particularly as the solution would involve the 
honour and the character of Barbara herself. And 
so he compromised, and the summer months slipped 
by. Every day he came to the house, and two or 
three times a week she visited him at his rooms. 
Sometimes they would take the car and dash down 
into the country, for a few hours' ramble over the 
Surrey hills. And they would sit in the bracken, and 
talk of God, and life, and poets, and the mystery of 
sex, nations, personality, destiny, restaurants, stage- 
chatter, books, love and so back to God again. And 
except for restaurant and stage-chatter, Barbara 
appeared not to have talked of these things before. 



220 HEARTBEAT 

She was a spiritual opportunist, making a religion 
of her own as she went along. The more she yielded 
'to the claims of this illicit passion, the more alert 
did she appear to religious suggestion. She wanted 
to know all about God, and the why and wherefore 
of existence, and in this regard Caleb was as much 
an experimenter as herself, except that he had cov- 
ered more ground, j He described himself as an 
agnostic, with a sneaking regard for theosophy and 
a confirmed belief in reincarnation. When she asked 
him the value of reincarnation, he replied : 

" Because it confirms my faith in there being no 
such thing as retrogression. If you believe in phys- 
cal evolution, you must believe in spiritual evolution. 
Everything is emerging going forward." 

"But," said Barbara, "how about when you see 
a man start decently and then go to pot?" 

"He has emerged from a lower type still. The 
fact that he started life decently may show that he 
is improving. In the next reincarnation he may hold 
as a decent chap to the end. ' ' 

Barbara shook her head. She was not enamoured 
of reincarnation. 

"It seems to wipe out such a thing as heredity, 
for instance." 

"Wouldn't you have it wiped out?" quickly re- 
torted Caleb. "We are too apt to look at things in 
terms of duality, whereas everything is a trinity." 

"How do you mean?" 

"There is action and reaction, and then the spirit 
it evokes. If you study mathematics, you find that 
everything is in threes." 

"The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." 

"Precisely. You cannot talk of the Father with- 



DIASTOLE 221 

out first postulating the Son, and so the Spirit is 
produced." 

"Now, come down to earth, Caleb darling As- 
suming that my father treated my mother badly, 
are not his sins visited upon me?" 

"Nothing is visited upon you except physical at- 
tributes, and even these only by suggestion You 
are an independent spirit, with an independent ex- 
istence to work out. ' ' 

"That's rather jolly, but it sounds so lonely. Na- 
ture seems beastly cruel." 

"Nature is, but nature and God are not the same 
thing. God is rather a reaction against nature. Na- 
ture is a kind of wild profligate. It is picking up 
the pieces and putting them in order which is God." 

VI. 

IN those days she was studiously charming to 
George. The large comedian had arrived at a posi- 
tion of static security at the top of the tree, both 
professionally and socially. His popularity had 
never been greater, his wealth more soundly in- 
vested, his home life more comfortable and satisfy- 
ing. The staff had settled down, and his dear Fancy 
was always there in the niche he had designed for 
her. He had only to whistle and lo! she answered 
his bidding. For the rest, his days were filled with 
pleasant activities, in which universal adulation of 
himself played a conspicuous part. He sometimes 
drank a little more whisky than was wise for him, 
and in the morning his pulmonary organs were in- 
variably congested and wheezy; but for the most 
part his health remained good. Moreover, his affec- 



222 HEARTBEAT 

tion for Fancy increased. He observed that during 
the last month or so she had been much more tract- 
able and friendly, much less touchy, and less un- 
gettable; he was proud, too, of the success she had 
made with the Apache dance. George had never 
found her so adorable. He cherished a supreme hope 
that perhaps, after all, his Fancy was going to fall 
in love with him. As to any suspicion concerning 
herself and Caleb, he never gave the matter a sec- 
ond's consideration. Banstead said to him one night 
in the dressing-room : 

"I say, old boy, that young Thirkettle's sweet on 
your wife. ' ' 

Not even then did he feel the slightest apprehen- 
sion. He laughed and said : 

"Oh, is that so! I hadn't noticed it. Poor 
Fancy!" 

He did not even enquire upon what Banstead 
based his suspicion, but the producer not without 
reasons of his own followed it up. 

"You've only got to watch his face when he's 
looking at her. It's my business to read faces." 

George smiled indulgently and dismissed the mat- 
ter from his mind. Certainly, later in the evening, 
he did detect Caleb regarding his wife with an ador- 
ing, dog-like expression. Instantly he glanced at 
Barbara. Her face was tranquil, almost cold and 
expressionless. 

"Poor old Thirk!" he reflected, and prepared for 
his cue. It was nothing. These little wayside in- 
fatuations were common to the whole order of his 
experience. "Why, even he yes, even since he was 
married happily married he occasionally. . . . 
It meant nothing, nothing at all unless the attrac- 



DIASTOLE 223 

tion was reciprocated to the full. And look at Bar- 
bara! Not much chance of that. In three minutes' 
time he was singing : 

11 Oh, my! Hold me down! 

My wife's gone away till Monday!" 

In spite of Barbara's extreme circumspection and 
George's obtuseness, the lovers did not, however, 
escape the breath of scandal. It would have been a 
miracle if they had. Annette had her shrewd sus- 
picions, and one of the parlour maids had entered 
the library at an unfortunate moment. And the long 
arm of coincidence was stretched forth by the call 
boy's aunt, who lived a little further down the Ful- 
ham Road, and on two occasions saw Caleb and Bar- 
bara coming out, recognising Miss Telling at once 
through the good fortune of having, on occasions, 
had free seats given her. Thus was Barbara's con- 
tention that "no one lived in the Fulham Road" 
completely discountenanced. The call boy's aunt 
told the call boy, who told one of the stage hands, 
who passed it on to the assistant stage manager. 
From there the story passed by easy stages to the 
whole company, increasing a little in force at every 
repetition. Everybody began to know that there was 
an affair going on between Fancy Telling and the 
Chief's secretary; everybody except George. You 
have to be on very intimate terms with a man to 
hint to him that his wife is unfaithful. No one was 
in this position except Banstead, who foresaw the 
possibilities of a little sexual blackmail. His at- 
tempts in this direction did not, however, meet with 
the success he anticipated. He ensnared her into 



224 HEARTBEAT 

one of the offices by a subterfuge, and then tried to 
put across the strong, masterful stuff which had 
almost succeeded before. But on this occasion he 
received a violent slap on the mouth. It hurt him, 
and he winced. Drawing back, he growled : 

''Hold on, you little wildcat! I suppose you think 
it isn't known about you and young Thirkettel." 

Barbara was staggered. She certainly had no 
suspicion that it was known. She turned pale, and 
blurted out : 

"What are you talking about?" 
Banstead saw that the blow had gone home. He 
shifted his ground a little. 

"Come, be decent. I have no wish to tell your 
husband." 

The implied threat stung her to a fury. 
"Tell and be damned to you!" she snapped, and 
she raised her hands like a kitten's claws, ready to 
strike. Her eyes blazed. She strode with tense de- 
liberation towards the door. Gripping the handle 
she hissed at him : 

"Get out of the theatre, you dirty cad!" 
When she had gone Banstead whistled. 
"Didn't come off, old boy," he said to himself. 
He was not, however, unduly perturbed. She had no 
authority to turn him out of the theatre, and he 
knew that she would never report the matter to 
George. If she started stirring up mud of that de- 
scription, even George might become suspicious. On 
the other hand, he had warned his Chief, and he 
could go no further. There was no proof, and 
George would only resent these insinuations. For 
the moment it might be considered a drawn battle. 
He had frightened her, and hurt her feelings; but 



DIASTOLE 225 

she had given him a jar to his vanity and a swollen 
lip. 

From that day greater circumspection than ever 
was employed; on the other hand, they were both 
under a closer scrutiny. At the theatre they avoided 
each other entirely, but in the house they felt fairly 
free when George was out, but a little nervy of 
sounds and knocks. Not having the personal ac- 
quaintance of the call boy's aunt, and not being 
aware that the first rumour came from that direc- 
tion, they were less circumspect regarding the visits 
to the Fulham Road. Once there, they felt per- 
fectly safe and free. George did not even know the 
address, and Caleb's wife was on a summer tour 
in the North. Love laughs at locksmiths and even 
landladies, and is seldom down-hearted at anything 
except deliberate frustration. Barbara did not tell 
Caleb about Banstead, but she hinted that there were 
rumours going about, and they must be more careful. 
Caleb by this time had subdued his moral misgiv- 
ings. In the light of his mistress' eyes all was right 
with the world. The position was tragic but inevi- 
table. He would get on, and by some means or other 
make money, and then they would run away. They 
would both get divorced, and then one day he would 
be the lawful husband of his darling Barbara. But 
of course he would always continue to keep the two 
children, and would compensate Gracie in some way 
or the other. Gracie was warm-hearted but shallow- 
minded. She would soon adapt herself to the new 
conditions probably marry again. Oh ! it would be 
all right in the end. If only one were not eternally 
haunted by the element of crisis. 

Some shadow of it came to Barbara one wet even- 



226 HEARTBEAT 

ing in July. It was Sunday, and she had been forced 
to spend the evening at home, as George wanted her 
to help entertain a party of his friends. They had 
left early, as they came from a distance. 

When they had gone she went up to her dressing- 
room and changed into a peignoir. She was feeling 
tired, and a little anxious. She looked at herself in 
the mirror, and noted the pallor of her cheeks and 
the little rings beneath her eyes. For some reason 
or other, she put some lip-salve on her lips, sighed 
and then removed it. She walked across the room 
and rang for Annette. When the French maid ar- 
rived she said : 

"Annette, will you go and ask the master if he 
will come and see me for a minute? I'm going to 
bed. I'm rather tired." 

"Parfaitement, madame." 

The mirror had a curious attraction for her. She 
turned her face this way and that, and sighed again. 
"I shall have to tell him. I might as well get it 
over." 

George came into the room, puffily solicitous. 

"Well, old girl?" 

"George, I'm afraid I shall have to cut that 
Apache dance." 

"All right, old girl; as you like. It's been going 
some time. Weather too hot for you?" 

"It 'snot that." 

"What is it, then, dear?" 

"I'm going to have a child." 

The earth rocked under the clamour of this calm, 
terrific statement. She had done it, and there was 
nothing to dread except the humidity of his accept- 
ance. She saw his large, somnolent face suddenly 



DIASTOLE 227 

alive with the signs of startled vitality. It shook 
like a pink blanc-mange. His eyes expressed amaze- 
ment, fear, joy, and worst of all adoraton. Then 
then seemed to melt and die away, as he murmured : 

"Fancy darling thank God!" 

The fool! He was blubbering the worst thing 
that could have happened. A big man blubbing and 
blubbering like a child ! What did he want to blub 
for? What had he got to thank God for! Who was 
God? What was God? Caleb had said that it was 
picking up the pieces and putting them in order. 
Nature was a profligate. Quite true. Oh, but she 
couldn't stand this. He was advancing upon her, 
holding her in his arms. His tears were wetting 
his cheeks. He was murmuring: 

" Fancy darling, this will make all the difference. 
We shall be so happy. You shall come out of the bill 
and rest. You shall have the best of everything: 
nurses, specialists a lovely place to go to every- 
thing; nothing shall be spared." 

She choked hoarsely : 

"I shall be all right. I don't want all that." 

Everything he did made it more difficult. His 
sentimentality would kill her, and she couldn't afford 
to die yet. So difficult to keep one's head. She 
assumed uncontrollable fatigue and eased away from 
him. 

"I must go to bed now." 

"Yes, yes, yes, of course, of course. I will help 
you; lean on me dear old girl." 

Would it never be possible to rid herself of his 
protestations, all this while, all these months to 
come? In bed she hung limply, and turned away, 
was only her demand for Annette which finally 



228 HEARTBEAT 

brought about his departure. When he had gone 
she set her teeth and said: "I will not cry. I hate 
him. Why did he want to go on like that?" 

Sternly she thought of Caleb, and of their love 
of the days to come. But she was tired, very, very 
tired, and a little unstrung. George had looked so 
big, and helpless, and babyish, and appealing, stand- 
ing there, so pathetic and pitiable. Oh, it was cruel, 
horribly cruel ; and she did not want to be cruel, not 
even to George. Suddenly the tears came, whipped 
into being by the torture of her husband's image. 

VII. 

THE appearances are always with us, the riot and 
the record of chronicled events, the unctuous pro- 
nunciamenti of ordered authority, the awards and 
penalties of standardised codes, honours for the 
worthy and the lash for the unsuccessful, virtue and 
vice clothed in fustian, strutting before an audience 
hidden by a glare of light, the big band playing, with 
the crash of cymbal and the beat of drum. 

But real life moves onwards to a muffled beat, 
paying little heed to the appearances. Action and 
reaction and the spirit evoked, its roots buried deep 
in the illusion of time. The child unborn is building 
the temple which the workmen have deserted. The 
tears which a woman shed long ago are watering the 
flowers of to-morrow's celebration. It is the tyrant 
who forges the chains of freedom; the outcast who 
instructs us in the precise interpretation of civic 
laws. Memory, like a withered leaf, is lightly blown 
away ; but through the twisted years the horror and 
the ecstasy come tumbling upon us, and we know 



DIASTOLE 229 

them as our own. That life we call our own is not a 
chronicle of events, but an interaction of conflicting 
periods. The metallic records of a king are as brit- 
tle and unreal as the coloured baubles on a Christ- 
mas tree. The nearer we get to life, more muted 
become the strings, more elusive the word upon the 
tablet. All the tenderness and sweetness is a herit- 
age we pass along; all the bitterness and anguish is 
a mortgage upon our spiritual estate. We share it 
with these others stretching out their hands to us 
through the darkness. The profligacy of nature is 
so great that its very abundance would defeat its 
own ends, but for the fact that there is a force al- 
ways at work checking it, demanding more sharply 
defined contours to the specimens evolved, more 
closely woven fibre to the material produced. And 
this force demands not merely growth but a definite- 
ness of form, with crisis and accent; as though it 
were obeying a Draconic law that ordains all things 
to be made in the image of something, or in a reflec- 
ton of that image. Our consciousness pivots upon 
the recognition of our propinquity to the form we 
are ordained to complete. A buffalo is not conscious 
of the clumsiness of its form, nor does its conscience 
smart when it has stolen a choice root from a weaker 
brother. Man, being nearer to a more perfected 
form, is conscious of it. He sees himself, and the 
nearness and the littleness of his perfections. More- 
over, he sees above him and beyond him, the solidity 
of his development, with its accents and crises. 

The crisis which came to Barbara was the inevi- 
tablechisel-mark of the sculptor who had been pre- 
paring his form for just this accent. That she had 
contributed to its fashioning goes without saying, 



230 HEARTBEAT 

but that it was only a contributon who shall deny? 
The conception of absolute free-will is the pleasant 
illusion of moral policemen. It is the negation of 
man's place in evolution. It dismisses all complexes 
and physical reactions. The appearances demand it, 
but the heart denies it; and the human heart has 
always been surer in its touch than the human brain. 
In short, man is not yet far enough advanced to 
have free-will. 

Barbara 'Nearly life had been an obscure passage 
of inhibitions, with their violent reactions. Her nat- 
ural impulses had been thwarted, less by decrees than 
by implications which bewildered her. From the 
very first she was conscious of being spiritually 
starved, of having to build her own world furtively, 
and without assistance. No one told her anything. 
The discovery of the truth about her mother poig- 
nantly wounded her. She turned to the world with 
open arms, asking for pity. It seemed to her the 
moment for pity ; but the world shrugged its shoul- 
ders and labelled her a social pariah. Then she be- 
came a little heady and reckless. The gay allure- 
ments of the theatrical world, which had been her 
mother's, attracted her. Even here disillusionment 
dogged her footsteps. She learnt that everything 
has its price, even beauty. She became embittered 
after that, but still hungry for she knew not what 
some inner satisfaction, perhaps. Then one day she 
met George. She liked him, and he was rich. In- 
experienced in the values of love, she plunged into 
the desperate experiment. Had he not promised to 
teach her all there was to know of love? She real- 
ised with him only what love might be. And she 
realised that it not only might but must be the most 



DIASTOLE 231 

wonderful thing in the world, and she had missed it! 
Missed it, and cut off her chances forever! 

She was young, and she did not utterly despair; 
but she became less fine. Pleasant compensations 
were easily to hand, and the years drifted on. It was 
always her heart which cried out for finer things; 
her brain which said : 

" Don't be a fool. Have a good time." 

She observed George becoming more and more 
material, more and more repulsive. There were 
times when it was almost impossible not to express 
her physical loathing of his contact. Beyond that, 
he realised that he was an empty husk. His ideas 
were centred on himself, his theatre, his money, his 
wife. She saw her life in perspective, its past and its 
future, and she began to be desperate. A child might 
have saved her, but no child came. Everything was 
dark and finished, and melancholy stalked in the gay 
appearances. 

And then, just when everything was blackest, 
came Caleb, offering her everything which the les- 
sons of her experience had taught her to be of value. 
Can it be said that she did more than contribute 
to the crisis which she herself knew to be inevitable 
from the very first ? 

Blinding in its suddenness, horrible in its effect, 
and enduring in its result, she nevertheless nurtured 
a sneaking welcome to the first sounds of its coming. 
She had reached a position that was intolerable. 
What part Julius Banstead played in the careful 
staging of the denounement it is impossible to say. 
Beyond a known interview with the call boy's aunt, 
nothing is known of his personal machinations. Be- 
ing a clever producer, one may assume that he did 



232 HEARTBEAT 

not rush the action of the tragedy, and that he chose 
the actors best suited to their parts. Doubtless he 
enjoyed the subtle construction of his design, and 
rejoiced in the sure sense of his technical equipment. 
The complete success of that culminating crisis must 
have thrilled him. 

The last week in July Caleb had gone away for a 
fortnight's holiday. He went with laggard feet, for 
the interruption took him from his love. Gracie was 
then in Ireland, and her sister and husband were tak- 
ing the two children down to Swanage. There was 
no excuse for his not joining them. He was fond of 
the children, and he had neglected them of late. His 
first letter was couched in this strain : 

DARLING, 

I am seated in a little garden looking down into Swanage Bay, 
where white sails flitter hither and thither in an opalescent haze of 
sea and sky. Hollyhocks stare at me over the low, stone wall, and 
the tender green of tamarisks fades away into the yellow sands be- 
low. The sun is always shining, and at night a pale moon looms 
disconsolately above the sea like a wistful mother. And it is all 
hideous. At least, I don't mean hideous I mean empty. It is 
beautiful and adorable, but empty and meaningless. Oh ! my dear, 
my dear. I sit here at night, all alone in the empty garden, think- 
ing of you, wanting you, aching for you. It is all a setting and 
no more; an empty stage. It is only love which brings it all to 
life. How beastly it is pur luck. It makes one feel that the fall 
of man was a matter of inexperience rather than conscious wicked- 
ness. We were both unwise, but, God in Heaven ! we didn't mean 
to be wicked. We both yearned for beauty, and because we had not 
seen it, we took the reflection for the reality. And now that we 
have seen the reality and hold it within our grasp we are paralysed 
by the cruelty its acceptance may bring to others. I play with the 
children on the shore, and their love and trust shame me, because I 
am always thinking of other children yours and mine. Getting 
through the days is a torture. In town one does not feel it so much. 
Even when I do not see you I know that you may appear at any 
moment. Barbara, I love you and nothing can ever take that from 
me. 

Your own 

CALEB. 



DIASTOLE 233 

Barbara replied in a similar but brief strain, and 
these letters passed two at a time every day for the 
week. On the Saturday Caleb received a telegram. 

G. going away Sunday morning till Monday evening. 

On Saturday night Caleb arrived home at his 
rooms in the Fulham Road for the week-end. At 
eleven o'clock on the Sunday morning he rang Bar- 
bara up. Yes, Mrs. Champneys was at home; he 
should be put through to her. Barbara's dear voice. 
Everything satisfactory. George had just gone off 
with Ebbway in the car to Walmer. They were go- 
ing to play golf; would not be back till just in time 
for the show the next night. Well, where should they 
meet? Oh, Barbara would call for him. She was 
there within the hour. They lunched somewhere, 
neither was quite sure where, and in the afternoon 
they motored to Pangbourne, and went on the river 
in a skiff. They would have preferred a punt, but 
neither knew how to punt, and so Caleb rowed and 
they tied up under the willows, and five hours slipped 
by before they had had time to recount all the impor- 
tant things that had happened during the week's 
separation. The river was rather crowded, and a 
rowing boat is not the most comfortable thing to lie 
in, and so, shortly after six, they returned to town. 

"I feel extravagant," said Barbara. ''Let's dine 
somewhere jolly. I '11 pay. ' ' 

She laughed, and Caleb laughed. Money was such 
a contemptible thing in the scale of their love. They 
were always candid about it, and Barbara was so 
much richer than he. 

They dined at an expensive but rather secluded 
restaurant in Vigo Street, and drank champagne. 



234 HEARTBEAT 

They sat for a long time over their dinner, exchang- 
ing eternal intimacies, and flashing messages with 
their eyes and hands. At last Barbara said : 

"Well, we must go." 

He nodded. "Eight you are. I'll see you home." 

They went out and hailed a taxi. Caleb looked at 
her meaningly and repeated: "I'll see you home." 

She nodded, and Caleb turned to the driver and 
said: 

"I want you to drive to the Fulham Road. Go 
straight down. I'll tell you where to stop." 

They got into the cab, and Barbara remarked : 

"You are a little devil!" 



vm. 

THE mise-en-scene for the climax was not chosen 
with any regard to aesthetic considerations. Caleb's 
rooms were dingy, badly lighted, and not even too 
clean. Smells of ancient cooking pervaded the stair- 
case. In other respects the place was suitable 
enough. 

In the first place, the landlady and her husband 
had gone out to a supper-party, and some lodgers 
who lived on the top floor were unknown to Caleb, 
and seldom visible. To all intents and purposes they 
had the house to themselves. They entered the sit- 
ting-room, and Caleb turned on the light and locked 
the door. Then he took her in his arms. The em- 
brace was of the prolonged, silent kind. When it 
came to an end Barbara sighed and took off her hat. 
In the corner by the window was a box ottoman, 
with some cushions. Caleb said : 



DIASTOLE 235 

''Come, let's sit down." 

She sat a little timidly on the edge of the ottoman, 
and he sat by her side. Suddenly he remarked: 

"I don't think we need the light." 

He went and turned it off, and then returned to 
her, and they made themselves more comfortable in 
the darkness. There had been no indecision in all 
these actions. Each seemed to know that everything 
was predetermined. Even that which followed, the 
passionate manifestation of mutual desire, was delib- 
erate, as though conceived in an impatient presenti- 
ment. Swanage Bay was a poor place compared 
with the dingy room in the Fulham Road. The pos- 
sessive sense was soothed. She dozed at last, in a 
sweet luxury of fatigue, and Caleb listened to her 
gentle breathing. 

Suddenly she started. He felt the white chill of 
fear about her. 

"What's that?" 

There was a sound on the stairs outside. Quite 
true. It was his business as a man to calm her. 

"It's nothing, darling. The people upstairs, I 
expect. ' ' Then he added in a whisper : ' ' The door's 
locked, anyway." 

There were footsteps in the passage. Somehow 
the terror was contagious. Of course it was only the 
people from upstairs. Barbara must not be alarmed; 
that was the first consideration. But, God ! what 
was this inevitable premonition of horror? Why did 
it seem such a vivid and foreboding fatality that, al- 
though he had locked the sitting-room door he had 
forgotten to lock the bedroom door, and the folding 
doors between the two were open? Why didn't he 
dash across even now and lock it? and frighten Bar- 



236 HEARTBEAT 

bara? No, no, it was all foolish. In another second 
he would hear the sounds dying away. 

The handle turned. Someone had entered the 
bedroom. Barbara was sitting up, clutching him 
fearfully. 

"What is it, Caleb? Who is it!" 

And still he could not move. The crisis had come 
and he lay there, as in a coma, watching its develop- 
ment. There was no electric light, but a match was 
struck in the next room. Two figures appeared at 
the opening of the folding doors. 

They were George and Ebbway. 

Someone said : ' ' My Christ ! ' ' and the match went 
out. 

They had all seen each other. Ebbway struck an- 
other match and advanced into the room to light the 
gas. His face was white and he was trembling like 
a leaf. George remained by the folding doors. Bar- 
bara was still seated, making ineffectual dabs at her 
disordered hair. Caleb stood with his back to the 
window, looking like a murderer condemned to 
death. The incandescent gas cast a cold, greenish 
light over the room, and made all their faces appear 
ghastly. The atmosphere of guilt swathed the actors 
with a weird mantle of inertia. There was nothing 
to be said or done. 

After lighting the gas Ebbway drew back and 
stood near George, as though following his tradi- 
tional habit of giving up stage centre to his chief. 
It was a position which the famous comedian ap- 
peared unable to take advantage of. He put his 
hand to his heart ; his breath came with difficulty. 



DIASTOLE 237 

He gave a kind of whimper: "Fancy " and 

then stopped. His face shook, and tears started 
to his eyes. He appeared to grow suddenly old, all 
the purposes and desires of his being mangled by a 
glance. He was a finished man, broken and pitiable. 

Barbara saw all this, and a profound pity for him 
crept into her eyes. Poor old George! She could 
not have controlled the feeling, whatever the circum- 
stances, but almost instantly she remembered his 
saying: 

' ' The one thing I won't have is your pity. When 
a man wants love, and he gets only pity, it drives 
him mad. ' ' 

The words danced through her memory as she 
saw his face change. Her pity robbed him of the last 
shred of hope. He was no longer a man, no longer 
a lover, but a madman. He who was, by nature, a 
possessor was robbed of his greatest possession. 
Into that one moment there crowded all the spoiled 
impulses of his life, multiplying self-pity. As hap- 
pens with a weak man in a crisis, his egotism was 
the controlling force. He was blinded by the cumu- 
lative disappointments and disillusions, and this last 
disillusion of all acted upon him a he had predicted. 
It fired him with a gleam of insanity. For a second 
he rushed at her, as though about to strike her. He 
raised his arms above his head, then stopped and 
shivered : saliva oozed around his lips. He screamed 
at her in hoarse, rough accents, in which the Lan- 
cashire note was evident: 

"Get out of it ye bloody prostitute" 
Barbara slunk against the wall, and whimpered. 
Her terror was entirely physical. She was prepared 
to duck and flee if he attacked her. And it was not 



238 HEARTBEAT 

her own life which this instinct prompted her to pro- 
tect. She had got beyond all that. She must get 
away, somehow anyhow, before he destroyed that 
other life for which she was responsible. She slunk 
by a sideboard, watching him alertly. At the same 
instant she heard Caleb's voice: 

"Oh, no, not that, not that!" 

The distraction caused George to turn away, and 
she reached the door. Another moment and she 
would have been through it, when her progress was 
stayed by the sounds of a falling chair. George 
seemed to have observed Caleb for the first time 
the man who had robbed him of his most precious 
possession. With a growl he lurched towards him 
and grabbed at the other's throat. In a normal fight 
the odds would have been about equal. George was 
heavier, taller, and stronger, but on the other, Caleb 
was nimbler and in better condition. One blow over 
the heart would probably have crumpled the older 
man up. But George was fired with the fury of a 
maniac, and Caleb was defending himself with the 
nervelessness of a guilty man. In Caleb's eyes 
George's anger was justifiable, and he could only 
protect himself. The confined space and the con- 
gested furniture played their part in the brief strug- 
gle. George fell over a chair, but in falling he man- 
aged to grip the other 's throat, and they both crashed 
against a cabinet on which were china vases. Ebb- 
way was crying out: 

"Don't! Don't! For God's sake!" 

Before he could get near to part them they had 
fallen in a heap amongst smashed vases. Blood was 
let on either side, and there was a feral growling and 
groping for primitive weapons. It was impossible 



DIASTOLE 239 

to see exactly what took place in that ugly minute. 
By the time Barbara had reached them, Ebbway was 
pulling George away, and Caleb was coughing in a 
queer, unnatural way, a kind of inside choking 
cough. Ebbway exerted all his strength and man- 
aged to pull George back on to the ottoman. He 
continued to shout: 

" For God's sake! For God's sake!" 

George fell among the cushions, which a few min- 
utes earlier had been the playground of a different 
passion. His passion being sated momentarily, the 
wave of insanity also passed. His hand was cut, and 
he groaned aloud : 

" Throw the into the street." 

But Ebbway was kneeling over the fallen boy, 
about whose neck was an ugly gash. 

"My God!" Ebbway was saying, "get someone 
a doctor, quick!" 

Two scared people appeared at the door, the 
lodgers from upstairs. It was Barbara who dashed 
out into the street, calling out to the first person 
she met : 

1 ' A doctor ! quick ! Where 's the nearest doctor ? ' ' 

It was nearly twenty minutes before a doctor was 
found. When he arrived with Barbara, there was 
a crowd outside the house, and two policemen were 
in charge. The doctor, a quiet, elderly man, went 
calmly to work. He knelt upon the floor, and the only 
remark he made was : 

"This is a case for the mortuary." 

Barbara screamed, and Ebbway put his arm 
around her. 

"Courage, Mrs. Champneys. It's all right! it's 
all right!" 



240 HEARTBEAT 

He patted her hands, and coaxed her. George's 
interest in her had subsided. He was lying back on 
the ottoman, nursing his bleeding hand. His large 
eyes were transfixed, staring obliquely at the hud- 
dled form upon the floor. Suddenly he exclaimed : 

1 ' By Christ ! they '11 hang me ! " 

It was again Ebbway's mission to act as com- 
forter. He patted the big man's shoulder. 

"No, no, old boy. Don't you be frightened. It 
was an accident. I saw it all. You never meant to 
kill him. He felt on the vase" 

Then, as a masterly after-thought : 

"A man is always justified in defending his wife's 
honour. ' ' 

The scene became an unwieldy phantasmagoria. 
Strange faces came and went, unreal people with 
notebooks and solemn, official manner. Questions 
were asked, and incoherently answered. She and 
George never looked at each other. 

"I can't stand this any longer," she suddenly 
thought. The desire to escape became an obsession. 
She crept out of the room and went downstairs. 
There was a policeman in the hall. She drifted by 
him to the kitchen stairs, as though waiting for some- 
one. When he was not looking she stole down into 
the kitchen. The basement was deserted. She let 
herself out into the side passage, which connected 
with the tiny front garden. She walked calmly 
through the crowd of people outside the gate. When 
she came to the first turning she ran. She was 
whimpering like a dog that has been thrashed. Where 
was she to go ? She had no money, not even her hat. 
She would never, never go back to George's house 
at Kensington. Perhaps they would put her in gaol. 



DIASTOLE 241 

What did it matter? Suddenly she thought of Isa- 
bel. Isabel was living at that time in lodgings at 
Netting Hill. She walked all the way there, too pre- 
occupied to be conscious of the concern her dishev- 
elled appearance caused. To her relief she observed 
a light at the window of the first-floor room, which 
was Isabel's sitting-room. She knocked, and a 
woman let her in. She went upstairs and tapped on 
the door. There was a sound of laughter and the 
clink of glasses. Her knock had not been heard. She 
opened the door. Isabel and four other people were 
sitting round a table, playing cards and drinking 
beer. They were all in high good spirts, far too 
good sprits to be concerned at the appearance of a 
dishevelled girl. Someone called out: 

' ' Hullo ! here 's Fancy. Come on, Fancy, and take 
a hand. They've got all my money." 

She looked beseechingly at Isabel and said : 
"Can I have a word with you in the next room?" 
Isabel detected trouble, and she rose at once from 
the table and went out with her. They both went in- 
to the bedroom. As briefly as she could she described 
what had happened, but before the narrative was 
completed she had fainted. Isabel put her to bed. 
"When she came to, Isabel was bathing her temples 
with scent and murmuring : 

"It's all right, my lamb; you stop here. I expect 
you've exaggerated the trouble." 

IX. 

ISABEL'S conclusions were usually laconic and fre- 
quently shrewd; but on this occasion they proved 
wide of the mark. Barbara had not exaggerated 



242 HEARTBEAT 

the trouble ; she had rather understated it. On that 
night and during the weeks that followed, her sanity 
was only preserved by a concentration on one cen- 
tral fact. It simplified the issue considerably. 
Everything was lost and finished, except that one 
reality which it was her mission to vitalise. She was 
unable to focus the disaster which had overwhelmed 
her. The loss of Caleb and his love was the domi- 
nant calamity. By comparison, the loss of her posi- 
tion, her public disgrace in the law courts, and the 
question as to what would happen to George, seemed 
trivialites. 

A few days later a letter came from a lawyer to 
state that "his client, Mr. George Champneys, was' 
prepared to take her back on certain conditions." 
She tore the letter up. A week later a letter came 
from George himself, imploring her to go back, on 
any conditions, when he was released after the trial. 
She tore that up also. On that point her mind was 
definitely made up. Under no circumstances would 
she ever go back to the man who had murdered her 
lover, for murder him he had. In the witness-box 
she averred that she did not see what happened in 
the struggle. She suppressed the fact that she saw 
George stab at Caleb with a broken vase. Her accu- 
sation did not seem worth while. What did it mat- 
ter now? She was not vengeful. She did not want 
George to be hanged. He would be a very bad con- 
demned man, probably go mad. It would be horrible 
to contemplate. Caleb was dead, and it didn't mat- 
ter what happened to George ; but she would never 
live with him again. Neither would she ever take a 
penny of his money. She had wronged him and be- 
trayed him, and to accept money from him would 



DIASTOLE 243 

be placing her in the position of the thing he had 
called her. All that was finished between them Of 
course George would get off. He would be worried 
and harrassed, and spend some time in a comfortable 
gaol, having his meals sent in; but clever lawyers 
would see him through. Ebbway had sworn that 
he actually saw the deceased strike his head on the 
broken vase as he fell ! She also had lied for George, 
and the lawyers would make a great deal of the 
" defending of his wife's honour." 

His wife's honour! Well, she had not denied her 
guilt, and she was vividly alert to the ' ' sensation in 
court" when, in reply to the question: "How long 
had this been going on?" she had replied: "About 
four months." 

All theatrical London was there, in its best hats 
and frocks, and there was a kind of hiss of delight. 
Oh, yes, she was finished all right, so far as that 
went. The climax had been thorough. But the cen- 
tral fact remained her mission was not yet fulfilled. 
She had to go on living. What was she to do ? She 
was a fool not to have retained her father's dole! 
Four hundred a year now would be a fortune. WTien 
Isabel, not tauntingly but maternally, remarked: 
"I told you, dear, you were silly not to ask him for a 
settlement just after you were married," she could 
not be angry, for she was living on Isabel's charity, 
and that she could not do for long. After her dis- 
grace theatrical managers would fight shy of her, 
neither would she ever be in the mood again to sing 
and dance. In a few months such a thing would be 
impossible, anyway. She had no other accomplish- 
ments. 



244 HEARTBEAT 

At last she bethought her that at George's house 
were certain pieces of furniture and a few trinkets 
which had been hers before she married him. She 
wrote to the lawyers about this. Negotiations went 
on for several weeks, but eventually they were sent 
to her. She sold them. The result realised one 
hundred and twenty pounds, and she breathed again. 
With economy that would keep her till the end of 
November the fateful month. And atfterwards? 
The future did not bear thinking about. Caleb had 
said she must not always be thinking about Caleb. 
The tears started to her eyes as she snapped the 
little shutters on recurring memories. 

''Anyway, it will be Caleb's child. His, when he 
was young and unspoiled. Mine, when I was at my 
happiest." 

Ajid she became alive to the necessity for placid 
contemplation and calm hope. 

Isabel was angelic. Materialistic and thriftless, 
she was yet prepared to share her last crust with her 
downfallen friend. Neither did she make any great 
attempt to influence her attitude. "You beat me, 
darling," she said once. " You've only got to stretch 
out your hand and you can get it all back, or nearly 
all. Instead of that, you prefer to pig it along with 
me. When the kid comes, it's going to be precious 
difficult, old girl." 

One night Isabel came in very late, and found 
Barbara awake. She undressed quietly and got into 
bed alongside Barbara. They whispered together, 
odds and ends of subjects, and then Isabel said: 

"I suppose you know, old girl, you could stop 
this if you liked?" 

"Stop it? What?" 



DIASTOLE 245 

You know what 's going to happen. ' ' 
For a moment Barbara could not grasp her mean- 
ing. Then she said eagerly. 

' 'Oh, no, no. I'm not going to do that." Isabel 
sighed and remarked: 

"Oh, well, it's your business. I know what I'd 
do." 

Barbara did not answer, and Isabel thought to 
herself: 

"This child beats me. I can't see what her game 
is." 

Bleak autumn months closed in. The great Frolic 
tragedy ceased to hold public interest. George had 
been released ; but it was said that he was broken in 
health and had gone abroad. He had made five at- 
tempts to see Barbara, but she always managed to 
avoid him. He sent emissaries offering her money, 
and any terms she liked, and she rejected them. 
He called himself, but instructions had been left 
with the landlady to say that she was out, whenever 
this occurred. At last, apparently, he gave up hope 
and went away. The theatre was closed, and the 
house in Kensington let to another tenant. 

London is an excellent place to hide in. In the 
comparative obscurity of Netting Hill she managed 
to avoid all her theatrical acquaintances. She never 
went up to the old haunts. Many of her friends sent 
her sympathetic letters, and Ebbway was kindness 
itself; but her great desire was to sever herself from 
that side of her life. The association was too bitter, 
the record too humiliatng, the wound too fresh. 

"I must do some work," she said to Isabel, after 
a fortnight's idleness. She ran her eye over the 
whole gamut of women's unskilled labour market 



246 HEARTBEAT 

and the prospects loomed appalling. She would 
have gone as nursemaid, but for the dread of meet- 
ing people who knew her. She could not type or do 
shorthand, and she was ignorant of clerking. Even 
a mother's help or a shop-assistant requires some 
knowledge and a "character" from a responsible 
person. At last, through the intervention of a friend 
of Isabel's, she did obtain work of a kind. It was 
as an assistant to two women who strung pearls, and 
who had a little establishment just off New Oxford 
Street. They were quite pleasant women, and the 
principal was French, and her name Madame Guil- 
lard. She worked there seven hours a day, and 
they paid her fifteen shillings a week. The amount 
seemed pitiable after her inflated experiences. In 
any case, it would help her to eke out her small capi- 
tal, and above all things it would help to distract her 
mind. 

" Barbara Powerscourt is dead. Fancy Telling is 
dead," she said one day to Isabel. "The third per- 
son is suspended like Mahomet's coffin. Caleb al- 
ways said that everything was a trinity. I'm be- 
ginning to understand what he meant. ' ' 

"The pity is," replied Isabel, "that you can't go 
and have a good time, and forget about it. " 

Barbara smiled and shook her head. She fully 
appreciated her friend's meaning. It had often 
been her own solution when she was person num- 
ber two, but even if she were a millionairess it 
did not fit in with the aspirations of person number 
three. No, in the meantime the little room off New 
Oxford Street served her purpose. The work she 
was given to do was purely mechanical, tying knots, 
checking, even running errands and making tea, but 



DIASTOLE 247 

the work itself was interesting, and the expert knowl- 
edge displayed by Madame Guillard and her friend 
surprised her. When she first went, one pearl 
looked like any other, but these two ladies were able 
to detect the subtlest quality and gradation, and she 
gradually began to recognise differences also. Isa- 
bel was performing in a sketch at the Victoria Pal- 
ace, and they did not see much of each other. 

One afternoon in the middle of October she was 
at work at Madame Guillard 's when a charming 
woman came in about some pearls she wished re- 
set. She was in the early thirties, of medium height, 
with a distinguished pose of head and wistful, sym- 
pathetic eyes. Barbara had never heard a gentler 
voice or seen a more ingratiating manner. She 
talked for some time to Madame Guillard, and then 
Barbara became aware that the good lady was look- 
ing at her with interest. Others were also in the 
habit of looking at her with interest at that time, and 
making her feel uncomfortable, but one could not re- 
sent the peculiarly kindly and sympathetic glance 
of this customer. When the arrangement about the 
string of pearls had been finally settled, she walked 
slowly towards the door. As she was passing Bar- 
bara's desk, she turned to Madame Guillard and 
smiled. 

" Perhaps this young lady will bring them to me 
when they are ready?" 

"Parfaitement, madame." 

Barbara smiled back at her and nodded her head. 
When the lady had gone she felt all a-flutter, as 
though something very important had happened to 
her. She was to learn afterwards that it had. 



248 HEARTBEAT 

The voluble Madame Guillard returned to the 
room, exclaiming: 

"Oh, but she is charming, distinguee and so rich! 
Haul" 

"What is her name, Madame Guillard ?" Barbara 
asked. 

"Her name? She is Mrs. Myrtle, wife of what he 
is? Some big man in Government and the ships, an 
old familee. Veree rich, a nice man, but too old for 
her, I t'ink. She is so sad, isn't it? You see her face, 
a sad, sweet face. They entertain at their beautiful 
bouse in Sout' Street, and they have a big, big place 
in Yorkshire old very old mansion. She is veree 
kind, a veree nice customer." 

Four days later Barbara appeared at the house in 
South Street by appointment, and was shown into a 
white-panelled morning-room, with Chinese cur- 
tains and red lacquer furniture. A small clock 
above the fireplace whispered the velvet beat of in- 
destructible time. There was about this room an 
atmosphere Barbara had never encountered before, 
a quality which wealth alone could not buy. The 
furniture and curtains spoke of that security of cul- 
tivation which had outlived the very meaning of its 
production. These seemed not to be chairs and cabi- 
nets and tables, but a spiritual atmosphere in which 
these things dumbly reposed. 

Within a few minutes Mrs. Myrtle entered the 
room, wearing a dress of black crepe de chine. Im- 
mediately the room seemed to respond to her per- 
vading presence. Everything took its place, and 
even the caller seemed a part of an unstudied perfec- 
tion. Mrs. Myrtle shook hands and thanked her for 
coming. Then she opened and examined the string 



DIASTOLE 249 

of pearls, with which she was delighted. This busi- 
ness over she said to Barbara: 

"What is your name?" 

The girl was expecting this, and she answered 
promptly : 

' ' Barbara Power." 

"Barbara! a pretty name; and so is Power." 
Then she turned to the fire and said in a low voice : 

"When is this going to happen?" 

This question was also expected, and the reply 
was: 

"About the third week next month." 

The presiding genius of this tranquil retreat now 
approached more difficult ground, and it was with 
the gentlest pressure of the arm and the most kindly 
insinuation of voice that she enquired : 

"Your husband!" 

"My husband has left me." 

"Ah!" 

Mrs. Myrtle was toying with a long chain of cor- 
nelians and regarding the fire intently. When she 
looked up her eyes were overflowing with sympathy. 

"You live with friends?" 

"I live with a girl-friend in rooms in Netting 
Hill." 

Mrs. Myrtle nodded. She appeared to be finding 
difficulty in framing a suggestion. At last she said: 

"I'm afraid you'll think I'm very impertinent ask- 
ing you these questions. Only I don't know how 
it is. I felt drawn to you when I first saw you at 
Mme. Guillard's. You see, I I'm very fond of 
children I have none of my own. I wonder whether 
whether you would let me help you, Mrs. Power!" 



250 HEARTBEAT 

Barbara's eyes narrowed. She had had a pre- 
sentiment that some such proposition as this might 
be put before her, and she had not, so far, been able 
to frame a reply. What was the motive ? Her some- 
what bitter experience taught her that people seldom 
acted without motives. Certainly Mrs. Myrtle was 
different from anyone else she had ever met. She 
could not believe that this good lady could have any 
ulterior motive in an act of simple kindness ; at the 
same time, it was as well to be cautious. She re- 
garded her new friend watchfully as she replied : 

"It is extremely kind of you. But, really, there's 
no necessity. I shall be all right." 

The elder woman suddenly put her arm around 
her and pleaded. 

"Oh, please, do let me help you. You see, I I 
had a little child of my own, a girl she died. It 
would make me so happy. ' ' 

After all, what was the real objection? It wasn't 
like taking money from George. This woman was 
a stranger, just a kindly stranger, and she could 
afford it. Barbara lowered her eyes and repeated : 

"It is extremely kind of you." 



SHE had little idea at that time of what was to be 
the surprising extent of Mrs. Myrtle's kindness. 
She imagined it would amount to gifts of chicken 
jelly and, perhaps, an offer to pay the doctor's fees; 
but a few days later Madame Guillard came to her 
and said: 
"Barbara, zis charming lady, I tink she lofs you. 



DIASTOLE 251 

She has spik to me of you, and she wants to take you 
away. You are a lucky leetle girl. Come, now, you 
are to go to see her zis afternoon." 

And that afternoon Mrs. Myrtle put her project 
before her. She said that her husband was away on 
business in America, and he would not be back till 
the end of December. She had what she called a 
week-end cottage up on Leith Hill in Surrey. She 
wanted Barbara to go there at once. There were two 
servants there, and later on there would be a nurse 
and a doctor. She was to go out for gentle walks 
every day, and was to feed up. Mrs. Myrtle herself 
would come down now and then and stay a few 
days. This rapid and unexpected change in her for- 
tunes almost unnerved her, and she wept in Mrs. 
Myrtle's arms. 

Two days later she packed up her traps, bade an 
affectionate farewell to Isabel, and set off for Leith 
Hill. The week-end cottage proved to be a charm- 
ingly-appointed small Georgian house, with central 
heating, bath-rooms, and every modern convenience. 
The bedrooms were large and airy, with glorious 
views across commons and pine-woods. There was 
a grand piano and a library full of boojss. Mrs. 
Myrtle went down with her, and directed that every- 
thing was to be done for her comfort and complete 
satisfaction, and Barbara quickly realised that on 
this score there would be little cause for complaint. 
Between the sheets on that first night she thought to 
herself : 

"Well, this is the rummest go of the lot. 
this is where my son will be born or will it be a 
girl? No, I've made up my mind it will be a son, 
and I shall call him Caleb. I shall tell him about this 



252 HEARTBEAT 

in after-life just where he was born, and about Mrs. 
Myrtle's kindness. Its wonderful a kind of pre- 
destination as though the way is being prepared. 
Oh, I'm so tired. " 

The weather was wet and stormy, but every day 
she tramped through the rain, and returned home to 
drink glasses of rich milk. She began to feel well 
and strangely elated. She took books down from the 
library shelves, thumbed them, read a few pages, and 
then sat there dreaming. And the past had no sig- 
nificance, and the future did not concern her. And 
one day a nurse arrived, a brown-eyed, sympathetic 
little person, who was friendly without being too 
intrusive. 

The crisis came a week before it was expected. 
When the agony came upon her, she grit her teeth 
and said to herself: "This will pass." 

In the middle of the night the doctor came, grey- 
haired but athletic of frame. His calm presence 
helped to fortify her. But the grim battle had to be 
fought alone. The agony increased, and the next 
evening became so unbearable they gave her mor- 
phia. She swam off into a vague unconsciousness, 
during which the earth seemed to be ripped asunder. 
She knew at one time she was groaning, and could 
not control it. A voice came through an indetermin- 
ate mist of time. 

"Yell, you little devil!" 

It was the doctor's voice, and she clutched at the 
sheets and tried to speak. The nurse was leaning 
over her, and at last the whisper came through : 

"It's all right, my dear. You're all right. It's 
a boy. He's all right." 



DIASTOLE 253 

Again she drifted away, but this time the dark- 
ness was sanctified. When next she came in contact 
with the conscious world, she managed to say : 

"Where is he?" 

The nurse was smoothing her pillow. She said 
quietly : 

"You can't see him yet, dear. You must wait a 
little while. He's quite all right. Don't fret." 

When at last she saw her son, it was the most mov- 
ing hut the most tranquil moment in her life. The 
nurse allowed her to kiss him once, and then took 
him away. 

It was many hours later before she could say : 

"Why did they call him a little devil?" 

Nurse laughed. " Oh, that was Doctor Pollen. We 
couldn't make him cry. We thought at one time he 
was never going to." 

The morning brought Mrs. Myrtle, all eagerness 
and joy. She kissed Barbara, and said : 

"Oh, my dear, I congratulate you. He's a 
splendid baby." 

Strength and vitality slowly returned, and : 
consciousness of the wealth of her achievement. 
Mother and child did well. She lay there idly re- 
garding the deft activities of the nurse and 
clamorous protests of the babe. Sometimes she was 
allowed to have him in the bed with her, and she 
anxiously scanned every line of the little body 

"You can't say he's particularly like anybody, 
can you, Nurse?" she once remarked. 

"Oh, I don't know, my dear," the other replied 
encouragingly ' ' He has blue eyes at present. 
often Slough. I think the chin is like yonrs. 
Of course, I " 



254 HEARTBEAT 

"You mean you never saw the father, Nurse. 
He had blue eyes." 

"Ah!" 

It is, nevertheless, always rather sanguine to de- 
tect likenesses in a few days* old baby. Barbara 
Jwas perhaps a little disappointed in this. She seemed 
to expect a speaking likeness of Caleb, with all his 
characteristics and quaint manners clearly de- 
veloped. 

"What a long time to wait," she thought. But 
still, there would always be the interest of this de- 
velopment. Every year a little more and a little 
more. 

Development! As the days and then the weeks 
progressed, and she was able to sit up and then to 
move to another room, to walk slowly, and to feel the 
old vitality returning to her limbs, the practical con- 
sideration of development was beginning to grow 
on her. The mission had been fulfilled, but its further 
direction had yet to be determined. The intervention 
of Mrs. Myrtle had been like an act of God, but she 
had no intention of taking advantage of it further 
than was necessary. She and her son would not live 
on charity. It would mean, then, when well enough, 
a return to Netting Hill and to the pearl- stringing 
business. Fortunately her hundred and twenty 
pounds remained untouched. They would manage 
somehow. 

In any case, Mrs. Myrtle had not even given any 

hint of an indefinite state of charity. She had only 

said: *&\ ' 

"Now, my dear, you are to stay here as long as 

ever you like." 



DIASTOLE 255 

A remark which plainly hinted that a day would 
come when she would expect the mother and child to 
turn out. 

On a December day, when the snow was festoon- 
mg the pine-trees and the wind was blowing bitterly, 
she would regard the view from the warm security 
of the library, and her heart would be filled with 
misgiving. Not for herself, oh; dear no; she had 
met the buffets of the world before, as her mother 
had but this boy, this son of predestination; this 
ought to be his world, midst books, and culture, and 
wise counsels, away from the ugliness and terror of 
sordid strife. She would lie awake at night, shudder- 
ing at the forbidding future. 

" You 're getting soft, Fancy," she said to herself. 
"You've been pampered and spoilt for too long. 
Even now you get moods when your soul cries out 
for the 'fleshpots of Egypt,' as the old man said." 

At Christmas Mrs. Myrtle went away to stay with 
relatives in Yorkshire, but she gave Barbara permis- 
sion to ask any friend down to stay with her, and so 
she naturally wrote to Isabel. The sketch that Isabel 
had been playing in having come to an end, her 
friend came down and stayed a week. Isabel was 
much impressed with the house and the baby and the 
food and the servants. But on the second evening 
she said: 

"Don't we get anything to drink here, old girlt" 

And Barbara had to acknowledge that they didn't. 
Mrs. Myrtle was a teetotaler, although she had made 
no objection to Barbara 's daily glass of port, which 
the doctor had prescribed. 

1 1 Do you mean to say, ' ' persisted Isabel, ' ' we can 't 
get a bottle of fizz on Christmas Day?" 



256 HEARTBEAT 

Barbara felt a little uncomfortable about this. 
She knew her friend would expect to celebrate this 
important day in her accustomed manner; so she 
arranged that they should send down to the inn in 
the nearest village and make a few purchases on their 
own. She was now walking again and almost feeling 
her old self. 

She then became aware of a curious aspect of her 
friendship with Isabel. In the scurry of town, with 
plenty of excitement and social change, their brief 
chats about each other and current events were en- 
tirely satisfying. But in this isolated spot, in the 
pure clear air, amidst the solemnity of pines, these 
two actresses became distinctly bored within a few 
days. The evenings were long and dark and dull; 
and, curiously enough, Barbara noticed it more with 
Isabel than when alone. And the result was, they 
sent down to the inn and made more purchases. 
They kept Christmas Day royally. In the ordinary 
course of events this fact need never have come to 
the ears of the lady of the house; but it happened 
that the cook was an extremely religious and ab- 
stemious person. She was a Seventh Day Adventist, 
and when Mrs. Myrtle returned a week later, she 
felt it her duty to conduct her to the larder and show 
her an array of bottles, the contents of which her 
two guests had consumed in her absence. There 
were three champagne bottle, three port, and a dozen 
and a half empty stout bottles. And the spectacle 
saddened Mrs. Myrtle's heart. Isabel had by that 
time departed, but she went straight to Barbara, and 
said gently : 

"I'm afraid, dear, your friend has been leading 
you into bad ways." 



DIASTOLE 257 

Barbara did not at first grasp the purport of this 
accusation. She looked perplexed until Mrs Myrtle 
added: 

"All those bottles in the larder." 

Then she knew that the truth had been detected. 
At the same time she was not willing to throw all 
the blame on Isabel, and she replied a little sullenly : 

"It was Christmas-time I have unhappy mem- 
ories." 

And Mrs. Myrtle thought: 

"Good heavens! this child is the responsible one, 
then." And she answered: 

"It's so bad for you, my dear. One cannot cure 
unhappy memories in that way." 

The incident created a definite chasm between the 
two women. Mrs. Myrtle was disappointed. Simple 
and abstemious in her mode of life, the sight of 
those bottles conveyed to her the record of an un- 
bridled orgy. It was a thing she could not under- 
stand: but what made it worse was that the affair 
had been conducted behind her back. Barbara was 
not to be trusted. Could a woman like that be trusted 
to bring up a child properly? 

Barbara on her part felt a half-savage resent- 
ment against her hostess. She was annoyed at the 
discovery. Of course, she was in the wrong, but 
oh, it was all very well for Mrs. Myrtle ; all the in- 
fluences of her life had been towards refinement and 
restraint. She hadn't come up against the experi- 
ences of Isabel and herself. They were indeed as 
the poles asunder. The reflection hardened her de- 
cision to depart as soon as possible. 

Mrs. Myrtle returned to town during the second 



258 HEARTBEAT 

week in January, and the day following her depar- 
ture Barbara wrote to her as follows : 
MY DEAR MRS. MYRTLE, 

I do not know how I can thank you for all your kindness to me. 
You have been one of the few real friends I have ever met. But 
I feel that the time has come when I must get back to my own 
life, whatever it is to be. Baby and I will therefore be leaving 
here to-morrow, and we shall be going to my old address in Notting 
Hill. Please, dear Mrs. Myrtle, accept my best thanks for all your 
loving kindness. Your friend, 

BARBARA POWER. 

Having sent this letter, she went upstairs and 
kissed the small Caleb on his smooth skull, and 
whispered : 

"Old son, we've got to go back and face it. This 
is all swank, you know, us living here. I wish you 
could stop, old boy. I love you so; but it can't be 
done. We're poor folk." 

A ten o'clock the next morning, a telegram came 
from Mrs. Myrtle : 

Please wait till I arrive coming this morning very urgent. 

"What's all this about?" thought Barbara. She 
decided to wait, but she continued her packing. 

XI. 

WHEN Mrs. Myrtle came into the hall, it was ap- 
parent that her normal air of calm assurance was 
ruffled by some inward agitation. She found Bar- 
bara packing in her bedroom, and for the first time 
Barbara's presence slightly unstrung her. She 
smiled graciously, and asked her to come downstairs 
to the library. Once ensconced there, she sat rather 
rigidly on the edge of an easy-chair, and said: 

"Barbara, I want to make a proposition to you, 
and whatever you think of it, I want you to believe 
that I am thinking of the best interests of us all." 



DIASTOLE 259 

Us all ! Then she was coming into it herself! 
"Please don't be angry or shocked till you have 
heard me out. Briefly, it is that I offer to adopt 
your son." 

"What!" Barbara almost screamed the word, 
and her eyes blazed. Before Mrs. Myrtle had had 
time to qualify her appeal, she was having shouted 
at her: 

"Oh, so you you too, even you had an ulterior 
motive." 

The little burst of anger steadied the elder woman. 
She said calmly : 

"I assure you, the idea only germinated after my 
return at Christmas. I only came to a decision 
when I received your letter this morning. ' ' 

Barbara searched her face keenly. Yes, she was 
speaking the truth all right. Well? 

"Of course I know it is a stupendous suggestion 
to make to a mother. It is also idle to deny that I 
am thinking of myself, too. Oh, my dear, I want a 
child so much. I would do everything for him. He 
should have the best of everything : training, educa- 
tion, choice of career. He should lead a clean, 
healthy life in the best surroundings. He should 
travel and have friends chosen from the wisest and 
/best. He should have opportunities and large hori- 
zons " 

"Yes, yes, that's all very well!" shouted Barbara. 
"But what about me?" 

"I should, of course, compensate you, my dear, to 
my fullest ability. On the other hand, since you 
talk about yourself do you think that you 

"I know, you think because I've got no money, 
and because I because you found some champagne 



260 HEARTBEAT 

bottles in the larder you think I'm not a fit person 
to bring up a son." 

"My dear, I'm not criticising you. But you can't 
deny it's going to be difficult. You're a dear little 
person but you are what I should call unstable. 
Even the child, you have confessed to me, is the son 
of a man who was not your husband. He starts 
with rather a handicap. I can at least launch him 
into the world with an honourable name." 

"Name! You mean to say you would adopt him, 
and pretend he was your own son!" 

"That is the proposal I make. I do not wish to 
coerce you. It is for you to decide, and please take 
your time over it. 

"I don't want any time. I can tell you now. I'm 
damned if I '11 do it." 

Mrs. Myrtle smiled sadly. 

"Please don't be angry with me. I'm so sorry. 
Let us say no more about it, then. ' ' 

And the two women kissed affectionately. 

That afternoon, however, Barbara returned with 
the young Caleb to Netting Hill, and the grim 
struggle began. Isabel was "out" again, and not in 
the best of tempers. When Barbara told her about 
Mrs. Myrtle's offer, the two friends nearly quar- 
relled for the first time. 

"You do throw away your chances," Isabel 
grumbled. She was not particularly enamoured of 
the idea of having a two months' old baby in their 
congested lodgings. 

"Chances!" retorted Barbara. "Would you sell 
your baby?" 

"It isn't selling it. It's giving it a great oppor- 



DIASTOLE 261 

tunity which it's otherwise going to miss. Besides, 
it doesn't really know you yet " 
"It does!" 

"No, it doesn't. As long as someone gives it its 
bottle it doesn't care. If it was a year or two older 
it would be different. Did she say how much she'd 
give you?" 

"No; I never discussed the matter." 
"She might have offered you a thousand a year. 
They say her husband's nearly a millionaire." 
"I wouldn't take ten thousand a year." 
Isabel sniffed, and repeated her accustomed 
formula : 

' ' You beat me, Fancy. ' ' 

The immediate difficulties were manifest. To re- 
turn to the pearl-stringing industry was an utter im- 
possibility. A two-months' baby requires the con- 
stant attention of at least one person. It prefers 
two. If she hired a woman to look after it whilst 
she was at the business, she would have to pay her 
as much as she herself was paid by Madame Guillard. 
Isabel was already in debt. The hundred and twenty 
pounds was intact, but when that was gone, what was 
to be done? With the utmost economy they could 
-not expect it to last more than a few months. 

It must be said for Isabel that, after the first un- 
pleasantness, she behaved well. She curbed her 
natural extravagance, and every day she went round 
to the little agents and waited patiently for inter- 
views. And when Barbara became fretful, she al- 
ways cheered her with : 

"Never mind, old girl; I'll get a shop soon, and 
then we '11 be all right." 



262 HEARTBEAT 

But theatrical things were in a bad way just then, 
and Isabel was not so young as she had been. The 
baby was a source of delight and terror. Sometimes 
when he cried she thought she would go out of her 
mind. Of his upbringing she was profoundly ignor- 
ant. The landlady was consulted, and proved a 
mine of comfort. The only trouble was that she had 
forgotten most of the details of baby-craft, because, 
as she explained, ' ' she buried her last sixteen years 
come Easter Sunday." Barbara was always in 
dread of doing the wrong thing. The marvellous or- 
ganism of his structure was so delicately adjusted, 
she became convinced that his hold on life was 
slenderer than it really was.. His cries sounded pro- 
tests against her ignorance and irresponsible mother- 
hood. 

No word came from Mrs. Myrtle. One evening 
Isabel said : 

1 'At a pinch, I suppose, you could always touch 
that Mrs. Myrtle for a bit." 

1 'Oh, no, I wouldn't do that," Barbara snapped. 
"It would be like backing down. I was rather rude 
to her, you see. It would be an awful climb-down. ' ' 

Another evening Isabel came home and said : 

"I've heard news of George. You can get a di- 
vorce if you like." 

"What is it?" 

' ' He 's come back from Italy. They say he 's living 
at a private hotel in Knightsbridge with Queenie 
Myland, a flapper in Covent Garden pantomime." 

Barbara shivered, but she said quietly : 

"I don't care. What's the good of a divorce to 
me?" 



DIASTOLE 263 

"You might want to get married again." 

Barbara laughed bitterly, and put on the kettle for 
the baby's bottle. 

Two months slipped by, and the funds were re- 
duced to less than forty pounds. They could not be 
as economical as they ought to have been. At times 
conditions became unendurable, and Barbara would 
send down the road for a bottle of red wine or 
whisky. At other times she would leave the baby 
in charge of the landlady, and she and Isabel would 
penetrate to a restaurant in Soho, where they could 
obtain hot, rich, and uncommon food, filleted herrings 
in oil, coquille of sole with cheese, braised chicken, 
savouries and peche Melba. 

"Damn it all," Barbara would say, "one must 
live." 

On one of these occasions they ran into Julius 
Banstead. He was dining with a fair girl at an ad- 
joining table, and they didn't notice him till the meal 
had been ordered. When he caught sight of Barbara, 
he came deliberately across to her, and in his round 
assertive voice exclaimed: 

"How are you, Miss Telling! We haven't met 
for a long time." 

Barbara felt her personality dwindle under his 
gaze. She replied limply: 

"I 'mall right, thanks." 

"I'm running the Charing Cross Theatre now. 
Won't you give me a call one day?' 

He fixed her with his searching glance. Yes, she 
had heard about that. Banstead had got hold of 
rich man, a sleeping partner. He was now a powe 
in the theatrical world. The temptation was obvious, 



264 HEARTBEAT 

and the more dangerous on account of its abruptness. 
And yet some instinct prompted her to say : 

"You never used to think much of my per- 
formances." 

Banstead laughed and displayed his fine teeth. 
He suppressed the idle temptation to say: "My dear 
girl, I hadn't thought of offering you a part." 

Instead of that, he answered : 

* ' Oh, come now, you misjudge me. I know we used 
to quarrel, but I never underestimated your abili- 
ties." 

Isabel, who had drunk two cocktails, exclaimed : 

"Oh, Fancy, do go. I'll look after the baby." 

Banstead already had a diary out and was re- 
marking : 

"What about Tuesday at three?" 

Then Barbara felt angry with this importunity 
of fate. She was, perhaps, unfair to Isabel. Julius 
might offer her a part at twenty pounds a week, and 
she could keep a nurse and live in comfort. But no, 
she knew her Julius too well. She had no illusions 
on the score of his attitude towards her. He thought 
he had her easily trapped. She tossed her head, took 
a sip of claret, and said firmly : 

"No, I'm not doing anything like that now, thanks. 
I have a baby to look after. I've given up the 
stage." 

"Well, then, just as an old friend." 

"I don't recognise you as a friend, either ancient 
or modern. ' ' 

This might be called the retort conclusive. Ban- 
stead grinned superciliously, snapped his diary to, 
and returned to the fair girl without a word. 



DIASTOLE 265 

' ' God ! you are a one. You do chuck things away, * * 
whispered Isabel tearfully. 

But Barbara's jaw was set. She was like a be- 
sieged animal that still has ground to defend. 

xn. 

THE day was rapidly approaching when the last 
bulwark would fall. Forty pounds, thirty pounds, 
fifteen pounds and some bills owing. In that dark 
hour Isabel suddenly got a small engagement in a 
musical comedy at Hammersmith. Her salary was 
to be three pounds ten a week, but from her jubilia- 
tion and high spirits it might have been going to be 
thirty pounds. 

"We'll be all right now, Fancy." 

Poor dear Isabel! Her loyalty was pathetic. 
Somehow this insignificant stroke of fortune added 
fuel to the flames of Barbara's despair. "Was she 
going to sponge on Isabel she and Caleb's son! 

One night she met a rich man from the Midlands 
in that same restaurant. He was to all appearances 
a decent, healthy animal, probably with a wife and 
children in some busy Midland town. He made love 
to her in a straightforward gentlemanly way, with- 
out pretence or vulgarity. He complained of his 
loneliness, and appealed to Barbara rather senti- 
mentally for help. He gave her his card, and said his 
name was Theodore Moffat, and he owned terra-cotta 
works at Tamworth, and rented a flat in St. James*. 
He was obviously probing to see whether the two 
girls were members of the demi-monde, and yet he 
did not treat them with disrespect. He explained 



266 HEARTBEAT 

that he had to spend three months every winter in 
London, and he had few friends and was frankly 
bored. Would they take pity on him and visit him 
at his flat? Barbara made it quite clear that they 
were not members of the demi-monde, but they liked 
his face, and that they would come and call on him 
together if he promised to behave himself. 

They went one afternoon, and Theodore made no 
attempt to conceal the attraction which Barbara had 
for him. He badgered her with questions, which 
Isabel answered. It was easy to worm out of Isabel 
the state of the two girls' finances, and when the 
story was told he leaned towards Barbara and said : 

"I wish you'd let me help you." 

"Why should you!" 

"I like you, and I can afford it." 

"No; it's not done. Why should you give some- 
thing for nothing?" 

"Well, you could " 

"Yes, I know well enough. I could be nice to 
you." 

"No-o, I don't insist. I'm really not that sort. 
j 

* * It can 't be done, old boy. Besides, I 'm not free. ' ' 
"What do you mean, you're not free?" 
She couldn't exactly explain. She was a desperate 
woman. Here was the easiest way in the world to 
secure some sort of protection. But could she keep 
Caleb's son in that way? The man from the Mid- 
lands nodded. 

"A deal's a deal," he said, "and a bargain's a 
bargain. You have my card. Come and see me if 



DIASTOLE 267 

you're in difficulties. I've never forced a woman 
against her will, or let in a friend." 

"I think you're a decent sort,"' commented Bar- 
bara, and the two girls went away. 

By the time Isabel's rehearsals were over, their 
united resources amounted to twenty-three shillings 
in cash, and eleven pounds odd in debts. Moreover, 
clothes were getting shabby, and holes in stockings 
unmendable. The baby cost fifteen shillings a week 
in Allenby's, beyond incidental expenses at the 
chemist and the hire of a pram. 

" Never mind," said Isabel; "I shall get three 
quid and a half next Saturday night." 

When Isabel said that, Barbara knew she was 
beaten. Tears swam in her eyes, and she went to 
bed. 

"I've been undermined somewhere," she said to 
the darkness. "I haven't the grit to stand a life of 
poverty and begging. I've seen you through all 
right, though, little son. Thank God ! you won 't re- 
member me." 

The next day she wrote to Mrs. Myrtle, and asked 
for an appointment. A telegram bade her to go that 
afternoon. She found her patroness in the morning- 
room at South Street. Barbara's face was tense and 
set. She said sternly: 

"I've come to give in; to offer you my son." 
The elder woman's face lighted with a quiet exal- 
tation, tempered by pity for her visitor. It was a 
situation which required all her tact and restraint. 
She solved it by kissing Barbara affectionately and 
whispering : 



268 HEARTBEAT 

"Oh, my dear you will allow me to compensate 
you handsomely ? ' ' 

She was surprised by the passion of protest this 
offer evoked. Barbara almost pushed her away, and 
cried out : 

"Oh, no, no. That is what I will not have. Do 
you understand me? I haven't come here to sell my 
son! I've come here to hand him to you as a sacred 
trust. Not a pound, not a penny will I touch. I've 
come to you because I'm beaten, not only financially, 
but morally. I'm a rotten woman and you're a good 
one. I have nothing to offer him but cramped 
poverty, the influence of vicious nature, narrow 
friends and outlooks. But you you talked to me of 
wide horizons, of great opportunities of the pure 
sweet air among the pines. That is what I give him 
for, because because I somehow believe he will be 
rather fine." 

Her voice broke over this last statement. Then 
she continued excitedly: 

"I am a kind of instrument, do you see? of some 
dumb fate. A friend, a very dear friend of mine 
spoke of a spiritual Nemesis. Perhaps that is the 
end, in my poor way, that I am serving. I wanted 
a son more than anything in the world. He has the 
best of everything that is in me. Where my mother 
and I failed, let him succeed. Where my mother 
and I suffered, let him rejoice. This cannot be done 
without the true environment, the wide horizons, as 
you call them. This is a sacred trust I offer you, 
Mrs. Myrtle. Do you accept it?" 

"I accept it, my friend." 

"Say to me, 'I swear to adopt your son, and to 



DIASTOLE 269 

educate him, and to make it the passion of my life 
that he shall be a good man.' " 

"I swear to adopt your son, Barbara, to educate, 
him, and to make it the passion of my life that he 
shall be a good man." 

"There is only one thing more." 

"Tell me, my dear." 

"You shall call him Caleb." 

"He shall be called Caleb." 

She wept then, and Mrs. Myrtle put her arm round 
her and said: 

"Oh, my dear, I had no suspicion that you had 
so noble a soul. You wouldn't I suppose you 
wouldn't sometimes come and see him?" 

"No, no, I couldn't do that. I couldn't stand it. 
The gift is absolute. Whilst I live I shall watch you 
and him from afar. He will never know his mother. ' ' 

That afternoon a nurse arrived in a cab, and 
Master Caleb was taken away to South Street. And 
Barbara lay alone in the darkness, murmuring: 

"Oh, my son my son my little son!" 

And Isabel came in late, and moved softly, know- 
ing of her friend's anguish. 

"It all seems damned unfair," she said medita- 
tively. "Men can have no end of a good time. It's 
always sugar or dirt with them. It it's sugar, they 
share a little with us. If it's dirt, they throw it to 
us and run away. I had an awful job to-night with 
young Stephens 

"And God sends a messenger to our door, raur 
mured Barbara, "and says, 'There is no answer.' 
That amused Caleb. I remember 

"What's that, dear!" 



270 HEARTBEAT 

"I was talking in my sleep, darling." 

Isabel turned out the light. And these strange 
bedfellows, who had drifted together and formed so 
great an affection for each other, and yet with so 
little they could really share, wandered apart in the 
darkness, each occupied with her own thoughts. 

Isabel was thinking: 

"Poor darling old Fancy! It must be a blow to 
her. It '11 make it much more comfy, though, having 
the brat out of the way. I do hope she gets a shop 
soon." . :,.*:._ Jjf9.$i 

And Barbara was thinking: 

' ' thou God, who are you ? What are you ? Have 
I done right? Oh, please protect him and make a 
fine man of him." 

XIII. 

THE morning brought a condition of utter lethargy. 
She was worn out. The child's crying echoed 
through her tired memory. He would be crying 
now. Who would be looking after him? Wouldn't 
he miss her? Wasn't there something which would 
always tell him? Three times she started up to go 
and get him back. She couldn't stand it. Mrs. 
Myrtle would be bound to give him back if she in- 
sisted. She had signed nothing. 

Her limbs ached so, she could hardly move. The 
meagre room became a dim tabernacle of remorse. 
Isabel was breathing heavily, her hair all frowsy, 
scattered on the pillow, her mouth open. And she 
once was beautiful. The long hours trailed by, un- 
broken 'by anything except -Isabel's 'snoring, 'the 



DIASTOLE 271 

cries of tradesmen, the clatter of milk-carts It 
must have been past ten when Barbara suddenly lost 
control. She screamed out: 

* ' Oh, damn you, Isabel, wake up ! Get up ! " 
Isabel opened her eyes in amased surprise Bar- 
bara was hysterical, laughing and swearing and cry- 
ing at the same time. Isabel became alarmed She 
dressed quickly and ran out to find a doctor The 
doctor happened to be starting on his rounds, and 
he came at once and examined the patient. 

"What's she been doing?" he said a little im- 
patiently. < ' There 's nothing wrong with her except 
hysteria. Her nerves are all unstrung. She ought 
to go away for a few weeks to get a complete rest 
and change." 

"Yes?" said Barbara. "Where do you think? 
Madeira or Monte Carlo?" 

Before he had time to reply she flung herself on 
to the bed, and laughed and cried alternately. Isabel 
put her arms round her and wept also. The doctor 
shrugged his shoulders, wrote out a prescription, 
and went away. 

After he had gone she quieted down. For two 
days and nights she lay in a kind of coma, completely 
oblivious to her surroundings. Isabel waited on her, 
but she was unaware of it. Everything was finished. 
She was slipping away into a welcoming darkness. 
In dreams she visited unfamiliar places, talked with 
unfamiliar people. She could not see the people, but 
she could hear them. They were not unkind, only- 
strange, bewildering. They wanted to be kind to 
her, and they talked eagerly in low-pitched voices. 



272 HEARTBEAT 

Hands touched hers, lips were pressed against her 
brow. 

Then, suddenly, she was a child again, playing 
with dolls in the large nursery at High Barrow. 
Miss Ridde was there. She could see her face above 
the fire-guard. Her eyes glued upon a novel, she was 
saying : 

"I see, dear. So Mrs. Wilkins is coming to have 
tea with the postman." 

Miss Riddie said that, but she wasn't thinking 
about what she was saying. She was too immersed 
in the romantic story. Poor Miss Ridde ! With an 
unromantic figure she appeared, with her thick 
spectacles and broad, flat nose. And yet why 
shouldn't she dream of knights and ladies and gal- 
lant deeds? 

Miss Ridde had closed her novel with a snap. She 
was wiping her eyes. 

"Come now, dear," she was saying. "Get your 
little cape and the brown fur bonnet. I'm going to 
take you down to the House to hear your dear father. 
Your father is a very great man, a very great man 
indeed. He is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He 
has all the money of the country in his charge. Think 
of that!" 

They were driving in a carriage through the streets 
of London. It was a dim winter afternoon. The 
pavements were wet, and they reflected the lights of 
street lamps in perspective. And there was the 
river, and the lights on the other side, and barges 
feeling their way along stealthily. There were large 
policemen, and big, official-looking men looking her 



DIASTOLE 273 

up and down. And she wanted to nudge Miss Ridde 
and say: 

''Tell them about me and who my father is." 

But they were already in the hushed hall. There 
were the rows and rows of elderly men, just as she 
had seen them once before. There was the man in 
the wig a kind of umpire ; and there was the brass 
mace. A mace ! Yes, yes, she remembered about the 
mace the symbol of ordered authority. And there 
they were all listening intently to her father. But 
no, that was a queer, funny thing. They were all 
listening intently, sure enough, but it wasn't her 
father they were listening to. The speaker was a 
young man and he was talking about "shibboleths." 
He had them all right, as theatrical folk say. He 
had gripped them. 

"Surely the honourable member does not expect 
us to return to the shibboleths of the Powerscourt 
tradition?" 

Eh? What was that? Powerscourt? Shibbo- 
leths? She wanted to ask Miss Bidde, but queerly 
enough Miss Ridde was no longer there. Instead, 
by her side sat an old lady with a gentle, dis- 
tinguished face, and she smiled at Barbara and said : 

1 ' Well, my dear ? Are you satisfied ? ' ' 

Of course Barbara knew her. It was Mrs. Myrtle. 
Mrs. Myrtle! Well, what did she mean when she 
said: "Well, my dear, are you satisfied?' 

She looked again at the young man speaking, 
was tall and loose-limbed, with a broad, strong face, 
the blue eyes widely set, the brown hair t 
ruffled. There was about him the atmosphere 
"wide horizons." 



274 HEARTBEAT 

She knew then. 

She wanted to scream out: " Caleb my son! my 
son!" 

But she could not scream or cry; she could only 
sit there, clutching clutching. 

He was speaking again : 

" Those of us who passed through the great war, 
which happened long ago, hardly need reminding of 
the horrors of it. Its physical record is set down 
for eternity to read. But, may I ask, did nothing 
come out of it ? Men and women pass away, but ideas 
take their revenge." 

Yes, yes, that was it ! That was what Caleb would 
say. What did he call it? Spiritual something 
spiritual spiritual Nemesis ! Not only in wars . . . 

The House had vanished. She was all alone on 
the top of a hill amongst the bracken. Her feet were 
bleeding and her limbs ached. She had walked far 
and the day was closing in. And yet she was not 
unhappy; neither was she entirely alone. Her 
thoughts were always responded to by a large, com- 
forting voice : 

"I am weary, broken, at my journey's end," she 
said. 

"Journeys do not end," said the voice. "Nothing 
ends. Everything flows on irresistibly." 

"Yes, I see that," replied Barbara quietly. "And 
yet I am a wicked woman. I cannot escape my own 
weaknesses. Oh, listen to me, stranger, I gave to 
the world a son. When I say gave, I mean literally. 
I gave him away to a better woman than myself as 
a sacred trust. I have seen him in the long here- 
after. With my hair greying I looked down into the 



DIASTOLE 275 

hall where he stood. I was a stranger a distin- 
guished stranger. Think of that! Did you ever 
hear of a woman being a distinguished stranger to 
her own son? He will never know his mother 

There was a short silence, whilst her thoughts ran 
riot. Then the voice capped her reflections : 

"So, you see, my dear, the pauper's grave in Liv- 
erpool becomes the centre round which a new world 
now revolves. Ideas take their revenge." 

The hill was aglow with the amber light of the 
sun or bracken and sand. 

"God is watching you," said the voice. 

"Who is God?" she asked calmly. 

"When everything has been given, and everything 
taken away, God is the pity which remains." 

A strange sense of comfort stole over her. She 
was not alone. One is never alone, perhaps. Her 
body relaxed. She passed into a dreamless sleep. 

XIV. 

IT was early morning of the third day after her col- 
lapse Her mind was perfectly clear, nakedly f 
of illusions. The cold morning light, the ugly wall- 
paper, Isabel snoring noisily. Well! She had visited 
strange places and she had come back. 

She was still Fancy, Fancy, with all the weight of 
calamity upon her; still Fancy, with her restless- 
ness and weakness,still Fancy-broken L free .though, 
buoyed up by a comforting secret. Things happei 
deep down within us. 

She dressed quietly and went out. 



276 HEARTBEAT 

It was late February, and there was a faint touch 
of spring in the air. Crocuses and snowdrops were 
already raising their modest heads in neighbouring 
gardens. She drifted idly down the streets, and her 
limbs responded to the movement. She reached 
'Hyde Park, and sat upon a seat, the opposite end 
of which was occupied by a blotchy-faced woman 
fast asleep. Sparrows quarrelled amongst the beds. 
Suddenly her heart was touched with pity as she re- 
garded the blotchy-faced one down and out, old 
and finished. But, after all, wasn't she the same? 
Down and out yes, but not yet old or blotchy. She 
had her youth. Nothing was left her but her youth. 
Well, was youth a thing to be idly disregarded? 
Free : she was free, not a responsibility in the world. 
A curious thing, freedom, the possession only of 
irresponsible people. Decent people weren't free. 
They were tied hand and foot. Something inspiring, 
though, about freedom. After all, one might as well 
go on living. 

She ambled back to the rooms in Netting Hill, and 
found Isabel making tea, and looking anxious. Bar- 
bara gave her the first smile for three days. 

"I've been for a walk, old girl." 

"Oh! are you feeling better, Fancy?" 

"Yes. I shall be all right." 

"I do wish we could afford to send you away for a 
bit." 

Poor Isabel! she had not yet received her first 
week's money! 

"It isn't necessary, darling. It's work I want." 

"Will you go back toithat pearl-stringing?" 

"Oh, I expect so." 



DIASTOLE 277 

But she did not go back to the pearl-stringing. 
She felt that the association of that room with Mrs. 
Myrtle and her tragic connection would be too much. 
She idled the days away. Her health became nor- 
mal. But she was hungry, hungry for the good 
things. She wanted to dine out, and they had no 
money. ''It's in my blood," she thought. "It's like 
Isabel said, 'If you've ever been kissed prop- 
erly ' I shall never be able to work, not this or- 
dinary, drudging kind of work that decent people 
do." 

On the night when Isabel got her salary they 
spent a third of it within an hour on a carouse. Dur- 
ing the height of it Barbara reflected: 

"Who was it I kept saying I was not free tot 
I am free I am free." 

She parted with Isabel at the stage door. Then 
she took a bus to Piccadilly and walked bnsky 
through St. James' Square. She found the flat oc- 
cupied by Theodore Moffatt. The clean young ani- 
mal was dressing. He had dined in the City and 
was going to a dance. A man showed her into his 
sitting-room In a few minutes he appeared look- 
ing rather handsome and astonished. He cried out: 

"Hullo, Betty"-she had told him that her name 
was Betty Broadhurst-" This is a delightful and 
unexpected surprise. ' ' 

Barbara stood a-quiver on the hearthrug her 
immobile, but her bosom heaving rapid 

q t You said once that a bargain was a bargain, a 
deal a deal; and that if I came to you- 



278 HEARTBEAT 

Moffatt was even more astonished, too astonished 
to rush the position. He replied questioningly : 

"You would like me to help you in some way? 
Come, tell me " 

"I'm hard up and desperate. Yes, I want you to 
help me." 

"All right, old girl. Come now, sit down; let's 
talk about it. Have a drink." 

She sat on the Chesterfield, and he poured out 
two drinks. They silently consumed them, as if in 
need of encouragement for the crisis to follow. Yes, 
there was a touch of the gentleman and the sports- 
man about this man. She could believe that he had 
never taken advantage of a friend or an enemy. 
Suddenly she broke out with : 

"You understand, Mr. Moffatt, I'm not one of 
those women, don't you? Neither I nor my friend. 
Only I'm desperate. I shall soon be hungry and 
one might as well go on living. When you spoke to 
me I was not free. Now I am free. I haven't a 
shred of responsibility in the world and very little 
conscience, I'm afraid " 

The significance of her visit was now clearly pat- 
ent to him. The good fortune almost tongue-tied 
him. He whispered : 

"You mean to say that if I help you, you " 

"A bargain's a bargain. A deal's a deal. I'm 
not going to take your money for nothing. Only one 
thing if I remain straight with you, you must prom- 
ise to remain straight with me. ' ' 

Very solemnly he repeated: "I'll remain straight 
with you. I promise." 



DIASTOLE 279 

He went to take her in his arms, but she repulsed 
him gently. 

''Not yet, man Listen to me. I want to talk 
first, fairly and squarely as one human being to 
another. A bargain's a bargain, a deal's a deal. 
You will keep me in comfort and make me an allow- 
ance, eh?" 

"Yes, yes." 

"I want something more from you than that. I 
shall be a kept woman, old boy. Is it possible to 
make it a reasonably decent life! Come, you are 
acting dishonourably in keeping me. I ani acting 
dishonourably in coming to you. We are both pretty 
low down ; but don't let us sink altogether. We min- 
gle our virtues and our vices. I know myself pretty 
well now. I'm a miserable compromise. I can 
neither be entirely virtuous, nor entirely vicious. I 
have made myself like that. There are a lot of 
women like me. But I don't want to sit around in 
this flat, idling and drinking and smoking, waiting 
for you to turn up and demand your rights. I want 
some sort of companionship. I want work, and in- 
terests, and distractions." 

"You shall have all that, Betty. I also am not all 
Cither virtuous or vicious." 

"My name isn't Betty. It's Fancy Telling. I 
-was an actress, but that's all over. We've got to 
be dead straight with each other. I hate these 
women of the demi-monde, not because they're 
vicious usually they're not but because they're 
damned le~ The people I like are the kind of 
people you meet lunching in an A. B. C., little clerks 
and typists, with ordered lives and an eager intent- 



280 HEARTBEAT 

ness in all kinds of insignificant things, walking 
about in the sun after a cup of coffee, lookng in the 
shop windows ripping ! ' ' 

"You're a queer girl, Fancy. If you feel like 
that why don't you go and get a job- I could get 
you a job instead of coming to me?" 

"Because I'm Fancy Telling. I can see it all, but 
I can't do it, if you know what I mean. I should 
break out one day and destroy the whole thing. I 
altered Barbara Powerscourt, but I can't alter 
Fancy Telling. You can alter what you are, but you 
can't alter what you make yourself. I've made my- 
self that. Crudely speaking, you want me for cer- 
tain animal satisfactions. Perhaps I'm the same. 
I shall never love you. I shall never love anyone 
again " 

She walked to the window and listened to the dis- 
tant roar of traffic. Suddenly she remarked : 

"I like to have things straightforward. Doesn't 
it seem queer! There's you and I making our bar- 
gain here quite decently together, with London roar- 
ing all around us. If they knew, they would I 
don't know what they'd do. They'd certainly say 
we were very wicked. They have to have labels for 
everything. And yet they're all very much the 
same. London is a kind of clearing-house of the 
emotions. Some belong to one company, some to 
another, and they have to be sifted, and sorted, and 
labelled. But underneath it all lies the great pity. ' ' 

' ' By gum, you 're a strange kid ! There 's only one 
thing I'm frightened about." 

"What's that?" 

"I'll get too fond of you." 



DIASTOLE 281 

"Do you love your wife?" 

"In a way yes." 

"Why do you do this, then?" 

"You're candid with me. I'll be candid with you. 
The kind of thing you and I the reason why 
you're here, I mean that kind of thing bores her. 
I don't believe she'd even mind very much if she 
knew about you. I'm made differently. That's 
all." 

"But if you fell in love with me?" 

"Golly! There 'd be hell!" 

"Then you mustn't. Another point, friend." 

"What's that?" 

"No children." 

"I should be as anxious as you that that shouldn't 
happen." 

He went across to her and passionately put his 
arms around her shoulders. 

"Is it a bargain, then?" 

"Yes." 

"Fancy, I'm not going to that dance to-night." 

XV. 

AND so she went to live with Theodore Moffat, and 
within the limit of their code he played straight with 
her, and she played straight with him. 

"One day he'll tire of me," she thought. "Well, 
, when that day comes I shall look out for another 
if I'm not too old." 

Old age! No, she didn't fear old age. Nature 
has a way of forcing us to adapt ourselves. And 



282 HEARTBEAT 

when everything has been given, and everything 
taken away. 

She was quite happy in the young man's flat, sing- 
ing quietly as she went about her duties. If the day 
was cold or wet there was always the morrow when 
the sun would shine, the busy streets, people hurry- 
ing hither and thither. Dear people! every face 
with a different story to tell ; music stealing through 
open doorways, glitter and movement, pity and 
pathos, and that almost unbelievable courage. A 
long way ahead it would all come right "the pity 
which remains. " Isabel would come to tea. She 
would come up the stairs, puffing, sloppy, and a little 
bewildered. 

" Fancy, you beat me, darling. I never thought 
,you'ddothis!" 

Darling Isabel ! 

She was not frightened. She went to South Ken- 
sington Museum and made a real study of old lace 
this time. She started making lace. She kept ac- 
counts. She mended the poor man's linen, darned 
his socks, ministered to his wants, read a little 
" Shibboleths," eh! 

A long way ahead . . . 

THE END, 



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